HEALTH


Perhaps the most precarious thing about one's second life is their physical and mental health.

We can be as healthy as happy horses and waste the years doing nothing. And some are sicker than sick and have a grand old time for decades.

Most of us, I imagine, are somewhere in between. We know we'll get less nimble, we'll shrink, we'll have less endurance and run slower (if at all), but that's part of the human cycle. Yet if we can slow that process down, maybe even reverse some of it, and still live full, joyous lives, bingo! That's what we will discuss here.

A bit of a disclaimer. If you need medical advice, see a doctor. We will share what we think is sensible, proven, and useful, and we'll provide sources and/or links when we think you will benefit from that. (But we won't fill these pages with somebody's miracle cures, diets, nostrums, or HMO complaints. Read elsewhere, please.)

Finally, Gordon will include new stuff as he finds it in the newsletter; some of those items will then rest for a while in this section.

A directory will help us keep track of what this section contains:
 
 

What did I say in my BOOK about
physical and mental health?

Here's Chapter 6.

HEALTH

Specific information about CANCER

The 30-year war against cancer is finally being won.

CANCER

Specific information about POLIO

A post-polio syndrome has appeared.

POLIO

 

NEW INFORMATION from the 
Super Second Life Newsletter

 

 

 

3-1-06: Big Son or Big Daughter is watching us!

 

The fact that the first of 76 million boomers turns 60 next year has stirred the profit genes of big companies like Intel, Honeywell, and IBM, as well as many universities. They are busy creating products that will keep track of the new oldsters. Many of the items for the elderly and their caretakers were displayed at the White House Conference on Aging in early December, 2005.

 

For example, ADT Home Health Security Systems Companion Services has built a sensing device that helps a son or daughter far away tell when their parent doesn’t leave the bathroom after an hour (possible indication of a fall), doesn’t stir from bed between 6 and 10 a.m., or lets the home temperature get too cold or hot. Other firms have devices that indicate how active the seniors are, when they return home, when they go to sleep, when they sit in a certain chair, and how often the toilet is used. Some devices also monitor appliance use, and one will remotely turn off the oven if the user forgets. (These are sensory devices, not “granny cams.”)

 

Carnegie Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh is designing wheelchairs that sense a user’s fatigue, automated systems that can move wheelchairs in and out of a passenger car, and robots that can deliver messages or mail and remind one that it’s time for a doctor’s appointment or to eat dinner.

 

Researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University are using “artificial intelligence” techniques to develop canes equipped with sensors to detect when someone is faltering, a gadget that helps seniors keep track of their medication regimen, and computer games that help older people keep their metal faculties sharp, according to Lisa Hoffman of the Scripps Howard News Service.

 

I keep looking for a new gizmo that writes scintillating, accurate, timely super-second-life newsletters at the push of a button. I’m sure you are too!

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3-1-06: Up to 79% of late-onset Alzheimer’s is geneticand likely delayable.

 

The largest genetic study of Alzheimer’s, based on 12,000 pairs of twins in Sweden, showed that genes account for 58% to 79% of a person’s risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s, according to the Archives of General Psychiatry and released to the public on 2/12/2006.   

 

Late-onset Alzheimer’s is the most common form of the disease, affecting about 4.5 million in the United States. It typically strikes after 60 and causes forgetfulness, confusion, and behavioral changes.

 

Lifestyle changes, however, can cause delay or prevent the disease even in people who have a strong family history of Alzheimer’s, according to study author Margaret Gatz, professor of psychology at USC. What do the experts recommend to reduce the risk or delay its development?

 

* Use your brain. Mentally stimulating activities, such as learning a new language, might help build brain cells and ward off the disease.

* Stay active. Physical activities, such as a daily walk, might help reduce the risk.

* Remain socially engaged. People who are connected to friends and family have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. 

* Eat fruits and vegetables.

 

“You can’t do anything about your family history,” says William Thies, vice president of Medical and Scientific Affairs for the Alzheimer’s Association. “These findings should be regarded as a warning,” says Thomas Perls, geriatrician at the Boston University School of Medicine. “If you have Alzheimer’s in the family, you have to take precautions.”

 

I’m hoping that writing the occasional newsletter will keep the affliction away.

 

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A second study released on 1/17/2006 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that older healthy people exercising regularly had a 30-40% lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. 

 

Dr. Wayne McCormick, a University of Washington geriatrician and one of the study’s authors, said, “It seems like we are delaying onset. No particular exercise was cited but even light activity, such as walking, seemed to help. “The surprising finding for us was that it actually didn’t take much to have this effect.”

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1-1-06: A giant genetic code plus “targeted” cancer treatments.
 
The federal government announced in November (2005) that it is beginning a $100 million pilot project to
unravel the genetic makeup of the 200 diseases we collectively call cancer, to discover their (or its) causes and
treatments. The project is called the Cancer Genome Atlas.
 
“This is far more complex than the research that created the molecular blueprint for the human species,” said
Francis Collins, genetics chief of the National Institutes of Health.  The project will build “a powerful network of
researchers, technologies, and resources to tackle the cancer problem like it’s never been tackled before.”
 
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The problem is easy to grasp: most of the patients diagnosed with cancer are 50+ yet many of them are too old
or frail for potentially lifesaving treatments such as bone-marrow transplants.
 
“If we could get enough therapy into people, we could cure them,” says John Pagel, a blood cancer specialist at
the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, in discussing some early results of experimental
treatments at the annual (2005) American Society of Hematology.
 
The solution tested, rather than exposing the body to a wide beam of radiation (which can injure viral organs),
was to attach radioactive particles to man-made versions of immune system proteins called antibodies that
were engineered to stick only to the types of white blood cells afflicted by the cancers in question: acute myeloid
leukemia and lymphoma.
 
“That brings radiation directly to tumor cells but mostly spares other parts of the body,” says Ajay Gopal of
Seattle’s University of Washington. “Because doctors targeted cancerous tissue, they were able to give much
stronger doses.” In two studies, over 50% of the patients were alive long after they would be expected to have
died from their diseases.
 
The results are early and doctors didn’t compare the new treatments with other therapies, but Thomas Shea,
director of bone-marrow transplantation at the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive
Cancer Center
says they are encouraging. “Not only can older patients tolerate these treatments well, but they

had a good response.”
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1-1-06: What’s next after you survive cancer?
 
Half of the men and a third of the women in America will develop cancer in their lifetimes, and the number who
will survive (10 million) has tripled in the last 30 years, mostly due to advances in early detection and treatment.
But most are abandoned by oncologists once they survive, according to a report released in November, 2005,
by the Institute of Medicine.
 
“There is currently no organized system to link oncology to primary care,” says Dr. Sheldon Greenfield of the
University of California at Irvine.
 
The major study calls for a “survivorship plan” to guide every patient’s future health care.
 
“You fall off a cliff when your treatment ends,” says the report’s co-author Ellen Stovall, president of the National
Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, herself a two-time survivor. Oncologists’ priorities are to treat patients while
physicians who don’t specialize in cancer care often don’t know what special physical, psychological, and
social needs survivors have. “The doctor says you’re done” with cancer treatment, says Stovall, ”but you’re just
beginning a whole new phase of your health care. Nobody’s got a roadmap for that.”
 
Cancer survivors fear the return of the initial cancer, or a new cancer; cosmetic changes; keeping health
insurance after the cancer; discrimination from employers, and the lingering effects that treatments can cause,
like problems with mobility or memory, nerve damage, sexual dysfunction or infertility and impaired organ
function.
 
According to AP’s Lauran Neergaard, the pediatric cancer community has taken the lead in providing such
survivor care. The Children’s Oncology Group, a leading research group, has developed long-term follow-up
guidelines that say that every child cancer survivor should be given an explicit treatment record—complete with
the physicians’ addresses and doses of every drug—to provide to every doctor who treats them in the future.
 
The Lance Armstrong Foundation has also begun funding centers at some leading hospitals to focus on
specialized survivor care.
 
The Institute’s recommendations most affect us, since the group is chartered by Congress to advise the
government on medical matters. These include:
 
* Every patient completing cancer care treatment should be given a customized “survivorship care plan” to
guide future health care.
 
* That plan should summarize their cancer cure down to drug and radiation dosages, cite guidelines for
detecting recurrence or new malignancies, and explain long-term consequences of their cancer treatment. It
should also discuss prevention of future cancer, and cite the availability of local psychological services and
legal protections regarding employment and insurance.
 
* Specialists and primary care providers should coordinate to ensure survivors’ needs are met.
 
* Health insurers should pay for this report.
 
* Scientists must improve, or in some cases create, guidelines on exactly what screenings are needed for
different cancers and their therapies.
 
* Congress should fund research of survivorship care, to asses their needs and provide evidences for quality
care.

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11-1-05: Hot dogs as a lifesaver?

We’ve read it a thousand times: hot dogs are made of inedible refuse, one bite might kill you, and a steady diet of them is death’s bell ringer.

Oops, it turns out that the salt that preserves hot dogs (sodium nitrate) may prove to be a cheap yet potent treatment for sickle cell anemia, heart attacks, brain aneurysms, even illnesses that suffocate babies! It seems that nitrate guards tissues--in the heart, lungs, and brain--against cellular death when they become starved of oxygen.

NIH researchers have filed new patents on the old, overlooked chemical and are hunting for a major pharmaceutical company to help develop it as a therapy, says the AP medical writer Lauran Neergaard in the Santa Maria Times of 9/8/05. In fact, they are so convinced of its value, the government itself might pursue the drug’s development.

We’ll read more about this as the research develops. My hope is that, in the meantime, they’ll replace that hospital jello with a good old ballpark frank!
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11-1-05: Having a stroke? Is a friend?

According to the American Stroke Association, neurologists can totally reverse the effects of a stroke if they have access to the affected person within three hours. The problem is that most people don’t know how to recognize a stroke’s symptoms.

So here are three questions that will tell you when a call to 911 might be life-saving (or at least will substantially reduce brain damage):

* Will you please SMILE?
* Will you kindly RAISE BOTH ARMS?
* Will you SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE?

If the person has any trouble doing any of those three, at least call 911 immediately and explain the symptoms to the dispatcher.

Thanks to George Lechner (and his wife Carol, una colega in high school Spanish classes), both classmates of mine at Maine Twp. High School (now Maine East) in Des Plaines/Park Ridge, Illinois. We attended about the time that Red Grange found a football in nearby Wheaton!)
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9-1-05: New sleeping pills…

There are 60 million Americans plagued by bouts of insomnia. Most prefer Ambien, which works but there’s always the possibility of addiction—and is expensive. Other prescription sleep aids also hit us with hangovers, without any of the fun.

Help is coming! Lunesta was just released, without a time limit. Like Ambien, it creates “hypnotic” sleep with a sedating effect that lasts four to eight hours.

A second long-term sleep aid, Rozerem, will be released this month. It has been tested effectively for a year with no detrimental effects; better yet, it shows no risk of addiction. It operates differently: it binds to melatonin receptors that regulate sleep-wake cycles, so it can even be taken in the middle of the night with less chance of next-day grogginess.

And two more are on the horizon, indoplin, that works like Lunesta, and gaboxadol (due in 2008) that targets the brain’s GABA-A receptors, which are believed to help regulate sleep.

All those pills must be giving the counting sheep nightmares.
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9-1-05: Extra money to pay prescription drugs?

You’ve probably received a fat fill-in form from Social Security telling you that on January 1 a new program will kick in that will help you pay for prescription drugs.

I got to about line four and found out that I didn’t qualify—the first time I’ve ever been too rich for anything! Yet if you are already covered by Medicaid, receive Supplemental Security Income, or have your Medicare premiums paid through your state government, you already qualify—don’t send in the forms.

The benefits will average about $2,100 a year and you usually qualify for the “extra help” if your income is below $14,355 a year ($19,245 for married couples) and have financial resources less than $11,500 a person. Those resources include bank accounts and stocks and bonds but exclude your house or car.

Want addresses of groups eager to help you know more?

To get an application: www.ssa.gov or (800) 772-1213.
To use a screening tool to see if you qualify: www.benefitscheckup.org/rx.
To do the screening: www.accesstobenefits.org or (800) 424-9046.
To sign up (after being approved): www.medicare.gov or (800)633-4227.
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9-1-05: Seeing your heart from the outside: noninvasive miracles.

Until now if you showed up in the emergency room with anything that even remotely looked like a heart attack, there were two choices: wait and watch you until the heart malfunctioned or perform an angiogram, with all the dangers that brought—including a heart attack!

Welcome to the 21st century! Medicine is racing to perfect at least three other procedures—a CT scan, PET/CT scan, and/or an MRI— that will allow doctors to quickly get a full view (from the outside) of the heart, arteries, and other involved organs so that appropriate action can be taken before it becomes a life-and-death crisis. They are also looking for the perfect mix of these imaging technologies, perhaps with some blend of earlier procedures (like EKGs, nuclear stress testing, echo, and the angiogram), to create a “one-stop shop.” Ultimately, the purposes are both informed reaction and aggressive prevention.

Let me send you to the most recent (9/5/2005) edition of Time Magazine so you can read the nine-page article “How New Heart-Scanning Technology Could Save Your Life,” by Christine Gorman and Alice Park. The visuals and the excellent “Your Choices in Heart Scans” fold-out tell all in easy-to-digest prose and visuals.

Be aware that this is happening-now, cutting-edge stuff (without the cutting) that we have seen emerging in the past few years. It looks like the doctors and researchers will get it all together within the next few years, which means a longer, healthier life for us and should be a boon to the health of our kids.
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7-1-05: Subliminal advertising: making it work for you!

Even though it was banned on TV and radio in 1974, there are plenty of subliminal and hidden advertising methods still around. (If the topic interests you, see the tricks used by corporations, governmental bodies, and industrial groups at www.howtheychangeyourmind.com.)

Two other elements of this topic particularly caught my eye, however, when shared by my faithful and much appreciated correspondent Kim Wolinski (at www.redecisionsinstitute.com).

In Nature Magazine, Roxanne Khamsi relates recent tests that show that the mere thought of wine or beer can influence your sex drive. That whatever effect someone expects from alcohol can be produced by simple exposure to flashes of alcohol-related words on a computer screen. (If we just knew! Think of all the money we blew on bar tabs during our dating years!)

If male undergrads expected booze to raise their libido, it would (after unconsciously viewing alcohol cue words). The reverse also was true.

“What is most surprising is that mere expectancy can influence perception,” says Marcus Denzler, in a similar study conducted in Germany and reported in the journal Addiction.

(This isn’t limited to alcohol. Undergraduate students, after being subconsciously exposed to phrases like “old age” and “bingo,” walked more slowly down the hallway.)

What I found most immediately applicable was a subliminal technique shared by Bradley Thompson, who founded Subliminal Power. He says we can use the same subliminal technique to make serious and lasting changes in our own lives.

Simplified, he suggests that you take a core goal that you’d like to concentrate on in your life now. Say, “I want to be friendlier” or “I want to remember others’ names better.” (It could be more basic too, like quitting smoking or not eating between meals.) Then write that key goal down as a simple, short, positive affirmation. Do it clearly in thick, black marker pen on a sheet of white cardboard. Perhaps “I AM READY TO QUIT SMOKING.”

The next part may cost your marriage or friendship! To get to your mind in a highly receptive state, you are going to wake yourself up in the middle of the night when the subconscious is wide open. Set your alarm at 3 a.m. and just go to sleep. When you hear the alarm, turn it off and pick up the affirmation card and a flashlight. Turn the flashlight on and off quickly a dozen times while just staring at the card. Don’t consciously try to read the words. Then put it all down, go back to bed, and you’ll fall asleep quickly. It only takes two minutes!

It works too. A day or three later problem-solving dreams or solutions will simply pop in mind, and soon you will be making serious and obvious moves in the direction of the affirmation.

As Thompson says, “Strangely, most people (hearing this) won’t try this straightforward experiment. They don’t believe it. They think it won’t work.”

Well, I don’t know Thomspon, but years back somebody told me to outline a key problem in a short phrase and go over it several times before going to bed, and I’d wake up with the solution. It worked about 75% of the time. Since for decades I ran early in the morning, that’s when the solution would just mentally appear. About the time my mind cleared out from the running, what some call the “runner’s high,” in would float some image or answer that was precisely what I had been seeking but not finding. Often I stopped and wrote a sentence or two down, but usually I’d work through the answer as I ran and I jotted down the full response when I returned, using one visual to wrap it around that would bring it back to consciousness.

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7-1-05: A super new way to find specific news—free!

Every wanted to zero in one specific kind of news or information but you panicked (or fled) at the prospect of getting 5,877,342 listings on Google, with few of them from the sources you want, like newspapers and blogs?

<Time Magazine> on May 30 (2005) shared a concise explanation of the new tool that many insiders already know about: the RRS (or Real Simple Syndication). You just tell it what newspaper information you want or specifically which blog has updated its contents, and the information will regularly pop up on your computer newsreader, until you tell it to “STOP!”

Chris Taylor’s article suggests, for PC users, that you check Bloglines (www.bloglines.com), NewsGator (www.newsgator.com), or You (www.yousoftware.com), which plug into Microsoft Outlook. Or if you’re using Mac OS X, try NewNewsWire Lite (www.ranchero.com/netnewswire). Beginners won't need the pay versions, which run about $30.

“Then head over to your favorite websites and subscribe to their RSS feeds by clicking on any button that says RSS or XML (the computer language RSS uses). Your newsreader does the rest, a sort of e-dog that fetches new headlines as soon as they're available. All this happens in a single window that looks like an e-mail program.”

How does it work? The RSS scans other websites that are also configured with RSS, looking for words or subjects, then downloads the content, saving you surfing time! Almost every newspaper or news source now has an RSS feed, with two major exceptions, the L.A. Times and the Denver  Post. More and more blogs are linked too, and I know that when I finish my PodCasting radio series about empire building and niche publishing, it too will inform all I-Podfolk (and others) that the new 30-minute segments are available to download and listen. (This newsletter isn’t linked yet. You’ll still have to read or ignore it every two months!)

Let me share an excellent example that Chris used. If you are looking for a new apartment to rent in a certain neighborhood within a stated price range, instead of checking, say, Craiglist every day, you just enter that information and the appropriate listings will pop up on your newsreader daily, “just as if you’d hired a real estate agent to do the legwork.”

I suppose you could also put your kids’ names in the RSS and every time they’re clamped in the hoosegow, you will have the bail ready before they even call--or not!

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7-1-05: Inhalable insulin, while we await a diabetes cure.

While we wait for a cure for diabetes, most likely through gene therapy or pancreas cell transplants (if ever, decades away), a new form of inhalable insulin into the lungs will be available within a year. Called Exubera and sold by Pfizer Inc. and the Sanofi-Aventis Group, it is intended to replace the before-meal insulin shot in people with type-1 and type-2 diabetes.

This will be a blessing for the type-1 million who absolutely need insulin to survive. Many of the 12 million with type-2 also need insulin shots. Insulin is a hormone from the pancreas that helps sugar in the blood enter cells, which use it for energy. Insulin pills are ineffective and skin patches, unreliable. Some use insulin pumps inserted underneath the skin; others, jet injectors.

Since Canadian scientists discovered insulin in 1921, the standard treatment has been injection with a syringe and needle. Primitive needles gave way to very fine, short, ultra sharp needles. Insulin "pens," introduced in the 1990s, made injections even more convenient and the doses more accurate, according to Michael Woods of the Toledo Blade (6/6/05).

Why is that important to us? Not only do most type-2 diabetes sufferers develop (or have it detected) at our age, the epidemic of obesity is putting millions more at risk. And those with type-1 diabetes are taking insulin more often. So with an easier delivery method "intensive insulin therapy" is possible, which in turn reduces the risk of heart attacks, eye disorders, and other medical complications.

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7-1-05: Why hasn’t the discovery of DNA changed our world yet?

None of us had any idea about DNA when we were growing up. Science for most of us stopped with chemistry sets (how did we avoid blowing up at least the basement or ingesting those fatal salts?) and maybe high school physics. Then DNA was discovered and the human genome was mapped.

It held huge promise, if the scientists were to be believed. It seemed that by some magic the long string of matched genes would result in miraculous cures for almost anything one could inherit or develop. All one had to do was figure out where their A,T,C, or Gs were askew or missing, inject a quickly manufactured set of correct or new letters, and they were on the mend! (In the meantime "designer babies" could be created and most of the cold case files could be solved by matching hairs and fibers to low lifes.) What a world!

But not so fast, although we may still see that medical and pharmaceutical revolution in our lifetime, say a decade or 15 years hence.

What's every bit as exciting are the new promises we may also see, according to Time Magazine of 6/20/05. While 99% of the planet's genomes are still to be decoded, millions have been (including the 24,000 or so that humans carry). What they are particularly searching for now are the genes that allow some microbes to change sunlight into sugars, that absorb carbon dioxide from the air, and that transform dead plant matter into clean-burning hydrogen.

For example, "there are bugs that produce hydrogen. If the responsible gene could be found, it could be spliced into common bacterium (as has been done for years with the gene that produces human insulin) to duplicate it on industrial scales," says Aristedes Patrinos, who oversees the Department of Energy's genome program. Or ethanol, which requires harsh chemicals for its processing. Microbes can do the same thing cleanly. "I think (that's) doable within this decade," says Patrinos. They are also looking for microbes to metabolize radioactive waste.

Mostly, scientists are trying to understand the unique mixes of microbes that thrive in different sorts of ecosystems. For example, J. Craig Venter is taking ocean samples every 200 miles around the fluvial globe and is finding that 85% of the gene sequences are unique to that specific site, each representing a vastly different ecosystem. Wonders we can scarcely imagine even now will come from the deciphering of those systems. Best yet, it's getting cheaper to do the testing. It cost a dime to test the sequencing of a base pair in 1990; now it costs 1/10 of a penny!

I just hope they don't do any testing in my refrigerator. Some of the container contents defied description even when I cooked them!
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5-1-05: A better way to become an organ donor.

California has just begun a new system to help the 87,000 Americans (and 18,500 Californians) waiting for organ transplants—17 people die daily waiting because the current system doesn’t work.

Until now, if you wanted to donate an organ you had to pick up a card at the Department of Motor Vehicles, then place a pink donor dot on your driver’s license. But few go to the DMV and the pink dots regularly fell off, so as a result only 10% of the potential donors who die in California hospitals have this pink dot still intact.

Salvation! A new system just installed lets a person who wants to be a donor sign up at www.donateLIFEcalifornia.org. It spares your survivors unnecessary agonizing, puts your wishes into operation, and may well save a life. The new system was established by the California Transplant Donor Network and other organizations.

Why put this in a newsletter that circulates to all corners of the globe—well, almost? Because if your state or nation doesn’t have something similar, here’s an activity you might well want to get organized or at least strongly support. Find out first what your state or country does to identify the potential organ donors. Then check the link above to see how the process works. And if you are still motivated, check the CTDN at www.ctdn.org to see what your next steps might be. This is a case where the life you save by your actions might well be your own. But even if it’s not, that would be some heritage.

If you follow up this suggestion, please let me know (the best time is when it yields results) and we’ll let the other readers know about it. In the meantime, if you’re not an organ donor yet, why not get your own name (and those in your family) on the docket? You can’t take those organs with you.
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5-1-05: A better way to become an organ donor.

California has just begun a new system to help the 87,000 Americans (and 18,500 Californians) waiting for organ transplants—17 people die daily waiting because the current system doesn’t work.

Until now, if you wanted to donate an organ you had to pick up a card at the Department of Motor Vehicles, then place a pink donor dot on your driver’s license. But few go to the DMV and the pink dots regularly fell off, so as a result only 10% of the potential donors who die in California hospitals have this pink dot still intact.

Salvation! A new system just installed lets a person who wants to be a donor sign up at www.donateLIFEcalifornia.org. It spares your survivors unnecessary agonizing, puts your wishes into operation, and may well save a life. The new system was established by the California Transplant Donor Network and other organizations.

Why put this in a newsletter that circulates to all corners of the globe—well, almost? Because if your state or nation doesn’t have something similar, here’s an activity you might well want to get organized or at least strongly support. Find out first what your state or country does to identify the potential organ donors. Then check the link above to see how the process works. And if you are still motivated, check the CTDN at www.ctdn.org to see what your next steps might be. This is a case where the life you save by your actions might well be your own. But even if it’s not, that would be some heritage.

If you follow up this suggestion, please let me know (the best time is when it yields results) and we’ll let the other readers know about it. In the meantime, if you’re not an organ donor yet, why not get your own name (and those in your family) on the docket? You can’t take those organs with you.
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3-1-05: The “exercise pill” may be coming!

The idea is to rev up the metabolic rate, without exercise, and to keep excess weight off by using genetics rather than the gym. The magic protein to make that happen is PPAR-delta. Dr. Ronald M. Evans of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla led this quest 10 years ago, and is now testing with colleagues from the Seoul National University to see if it had measurable effects in weight change of mice.

When they genetically engineered the mice to produce extra PPAR-delta in their muscles, then put them on a high-fat, high-calorie diet for 13 weeks, the transgenic mice gained only a third of the weight that their unmodified brethren did. They then remained resistant to obesity even when they were kept inactive.

The increase in slow-twitch fibers also gave the mice far greater endurance: they could run twice as far on the mouse treadmill (1,800 meters) before tiring, and they could run an hour longer than the usual 90 minutes. “We call them ‘marathon mice,’ says Evans in the December 2004 Scientific American.

Could this be abused by athletes? Yes, says Evans, but it would be a boon particularly to the obese who also have heart problems. Will we see the pill on the stands soon? Not until they better understand the relationship between muscles and metabolism. They also have to see if it shortens the pill user’s life span.
 
 


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In a short piece in the same issue, Charles Choi reports that while most vertebrates can live only a few minutes without oxygen, the crucian carp (kin to the goldfish) can live on almost no oxygen for five days with a perfectly beating heart. How is that done? By transforming damaging lactic acid into far less harmful ethanol (the alcohol found in beer), according to scientists at Simon Frasier University and the University of Oslo. The ability helps the carp survive the Scandinavian winter. Not only might this provide clues to sustain people not getting enough oxygen during heart attacks or strokes, we have finally discovered a financially sensible use for ethanol! (Alas, you can’t get the effect just by drinking beer.)
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3-1-05: Think yourself thin!

In a recent issue of Family Weekly Jorge Cruz tells us to visualize ourselves thin.

He reports that exercisers in a Canyon Ranch Health Resort study who listened to guided-imagery tapes lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. They followed these three steps:

* Find a quiet spot, close your eyes, breath deeply, and relax.
* Visualize each detail of the new you. Don’t just see yourself slim; picture the definition of your muscles, how your clothes fit, how you move.
* Visualize dealing with urges to overeat. See yourself at a party eating small portions of healthful food, having a great time.

He suggests that rather than focusing on current problems, with visualization you can “see” positive change, then you make it happen.

(I must be weak-minded. I’ve been trying this since I read it several weeks ago. Every time I thought about that party, I had a few crackers with cheese or salami—and gained a pound! Nor am I svelte, rippling, or taut when I look in the mirror—yet. Perhaps, to save time and energy, I’ll visualize charm as well. If that works, I’ll report that dual miracle in the next issue. No report, I’m still charmless—and fatter.)
 
 


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A quick short that caught my eye since my running career (what a career: lots of years and I still haven’t arrived!) is stalled by osteoarthritis in the knee:

The National Institutes of Health reports that acupuncture reduced pain by 40% and improved function nearly 40% in people who have osteoarthritis in their knees. This from the latest, longest, and largest randomized controlled clinical (Phase III) testing, according to USA Today. Conclusion: acupuncture can serve as a legitimate companion to conventional medical care for arthritis.

If it wasn’t for those damn needles.
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3-1-05: It’s finally coming: genetic medicine that works!

So where is that miracle genetic medicine that’s suppose to eradicate (or at least change the face of) AIDS, cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s? At last, according to John Simons in Fortune (1/10/2005), Alnylam Pharmaceuticals has found a way to slip a biotech drug intravenously past the body’s defense. The new process was demonstrated in an experiment to lower cholesterol in mice (which was lowered as much as 50%).

RNAi (RNA interference), the core technology, was discovered by a botanist in 1990 attempting to infuse petunias with a purple pigment gene, and it works in human, animal, and plant cells. It jams sinister genetic signals in diseased cells, like those initiating the proliferation of viruses. But until now the immune system detected and destroyed it before it could work. In November, scientists in Cambridge, Mass., pioneered the new by-pass system that will soon result in clinical trials on humans.

This is a big deal. It will have a huge impact on both medicine and society. “RNAi has the potential to become a powerful therapeutic modality,” says biotech analyst Edward Tenthoff of Piper Jaffray. “The approach could address a broad range of disease including some that cannot be treated by traditional drug classes.”

You can read more about it and its possible boost to the drug industry in “Biotech’s Billion-Dollar Breakthrough” at the http://www.fortune.com archive.
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1/1/05: Some medical snippets, plus a scientific oddity.

· People obese in their 50s run twice the risk of developing dementia; the risk for those with additional health risks that accompany obesity, like high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure, jumps to six times normal. The study (by Miia Kivipelto in Stockholm) suggested that the culprit might be clogged arteries reducing blood flow to the brain.

· Women eating leafy green or cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli) slowed their brain’s aging. According to Jae Hee Kang of Harvard Medical School, this suggests that the antioxidants those vegetables contain ward off damage to the brain from free radicals.

· My own study suggests that it is very frustrating talking to yourself when you are hard of hearing.

· Jane Pauley’s new book Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue reveals a surprise: 10% of those with bipolar disorder (manic-depression) are first affected in their 50s! At that age, as in her case, the disorder is often triggered by steroids or antidepressants. It’s generally stabilized with lithium. Diagnosis and treatment are critical because nearly 20% of manic-depressives kill themselves.

And one scientific oddity:

· If plants like being talked to, will yeast used to age sherry grow better with music playing to it that is loosely based on its own DNA? The test is early but promising: the yeast cells floating to the top of wine casks to cushion against the damaging effects of air do seem more organized, which better protects the wine, according to lead researcher, enologist Maria Isabel Estevez in an AP interview in Madrid.
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1/1/05: Living wills don’t always work, but they’re better than nothing.

The problem with living wills is that they are often so vague that they aren’t helpful or instructive in the face of complex medical or moral questions.

We’ve tried to take very complicated, difficult, painful, wrenching decisions and make them a simple yes or no. (But) they’re never black-and-white,” says Sean Morrison, geriatrician at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York.

And people change their minds after they write their living wills but don’t update them. Or the wills never reach the bedside but are left in a file cabinet or a safety deposit box. Or the family or the doctor poorly decipher the patient’s wishes in the will.

Experts encourage two other paths.

· Give a trusted love one the legal authority to make decisions if you become incapacitated.

· Simply talk in depth with your doctors. The key question, says Morrison, is “What would be a fate worse than death for you?”

On the other hand, Naomi Naierman, president of the American Hospice Foundation, defends both living wills and the suggestions above. In a recent AP article by Laura Meckler, Naomi says, “Doing nothing is far worse. You’re only leaving a mess behind if you don’t have directives for when you cannot speak on your own behalf. It’s a terrible burden to leave with the family.”
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1/1/05: At last, calculate how long you’re going to live!

Better yet, you can use five links to find out the best longevity number that matches your present mood, and discard the rest. Then stay out of dark alleys and away from red-hot warfare!

Why would you want to know, other than morbid curiosity? Perhaps to estimate how long your nest egg must last. Or how long your spouse will need financial and medical support. Or what might you do between now and then to squeeze out a few extra years.

Glenn Ruffenach, editor of “Encore,” the Wall Street Journal’s quarterly guide to retirement, shared this information last month.

You’ll likely live longer than you think. If you’re 65 now, the average will find you alive until 83. That means half will live even longer, many, much longer.

Glenn, who is 51, tried the following links, and shares comments about each:

· For averages, try the National Center for Health Statistics at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lifexpec.htm. Figures are from 2000 and for age intervals of five years.

· A 13-question tool from Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company gave him a “longevity score” of 84, but if he lost 10 pounds and improved his diet, it jumped to 88! See http://www.nmfn.com/tn/learnetr-lifeevents-longevity.

· With 29 factors to consider, the Minnesota State Retirement System calculator gave Glenn an expectation of 81 years of age. It’s at http://www.msrs.state.mn.us/info/Age_Cal.ht-mis

.

· Even more questions and Glenn added two more years, to 83, at Microsoft’s Money website at http://www.moneycentral.msn.com/Investor/calcs/n_expect/main.asp. (It also suggested that he lose 20 pounds.)

· The greatest number of questions brought the lowest estimate (77 years) but it provided the best feedback about ways to improve one’s score. Called “Living to 100,” it was developed at Harvard Medical School and the Boston Medical Center. See (http://www.livingto100.com),

Ruffenbach found another benefit to that nagging question of “How do you know when you’re middle-aged? He suggests finding out when you are likely to die, then divide that by two!
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11/1/04: Now we know: the Mediterranean diet adds on years.

It seems unfair that folks on the Mediterranean mix good food and wine, stay thinner, and live longer than folks in the U.S. Now we know it’s true, according to several studies revealed in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Sept.21. The studies were from researchers in France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Italy. Please link to a full article by Melissa Healy in the Los Angeles Times of Sept. 27 for the details. In summary, those who ate a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, beans, fish, and olive oil, washed down with a daily glass or two of wine—who also didn’t smoke, drank moderately, and remained physically active—were about half as likely to die during the study period than those whose diets and lifestyles were less healthy.

While each of the components might have its own benefits, the studies suggest that the benefits are even greater in combination. Staying physically active trumped all other factors in life-prolonging effects. Thirty minutes daily of exercise brought a 37% lower risk of dying during the study’s 10-year period. A nonsmoking history was second, with a 35% lower risk.

A second study found the Mediterranean diet better than a low-fat diet for patients at risk for developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
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11/1/04: Walking can actually reduce your chances of dementia.

Mind you, that’s not to suggest you are already demented, though reading this newsletter might not be a strong argument in your favor!

We know that a defined diet (see the next article) and exercise are good for you, and there are strong implications that what is good for the heart is good for the brain, but at last two careful studies show that from 70 on even something as mild as walking will keep the mind sharp and ward off Alzheimer’s disease.

Both studies appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

One involved 2,257 retired men ages 71-93. It showed that those walking less than a quarter-mile a day were nearly twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia as men who walked more than two miles a day. There was little change from a half a mile to a mile a day (17.8 to 17.6 incidence of dementia per 1,000 person-years) but significant benefits at 1-2 miles (14.1) and more to those who walked more than two miles (10.3).

A second study, of 16,466 female nurses ages 70-81 showed that women who walked a leisurely 1.5 miles a week did better on tests of mental function than less active women.

Jennifer Weuve, who led the study of nurses for the Harvard School of Public Health, commented, “We were a bit surprised that something so modest as walking would be associated with apparent cognitive benefits.”

Previous studies have linked mental exercise, such as reading and crossword puzzles, with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.
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11/1/04: Want to see if your drugs interact?

Express Scripts, in their Drug Digest, has a fill-in-the-blanks evaluation chart that will let you list one drug, then all of the others you take, to see if there are interactions. It’s easy to use and quick.
 
 



Simply go to http://www.drugdigest.org/DD/Interaction/ChooseDrugs/1,4109,,00.html.


 













Thanks to Kim Pierce, lesser known as my youngest daughter. It’s alarming to know that your kids read your words (after being mortified by them during adolescence), but it’s equally delightful finding them sharing great ideas that you can use! (I knew that college would somehow pay off!)
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7/1/04: At last, our chance to get muscle-bound!

If you’re like me, we got missed when the muscle wagon made its trip through town. The women are probably grateful, but most guys wouldn’t have minded flexing biceps the size of wine kegs and having ripples on their chest guaranteed to make cheerleaders shriek and tarts faint.

Go figure: We may get a second chance!

According to The New England Journal of Medicine, as reported by Elizabeth Weise in USA Today (6/30/04), a baby in Germany has been discovered who’s the first human example of a “double-muscling” genetic mutation well known in mice and cattle. Better yet, they suspect it is thinly scattered throughout the human population.

Why would one want the DNA formula for humans who develop a lean and extremely muscular structure no matter how little they exercise or how much they eat? Some obvious reasons: to develop treatments to fight the body wasting that cancer and AIDS patients endure, to make the elderly stronger and more able to get around, and to give strength (and time) to people with muscular dystrophy.

Scientists suspect that the difference is in myostatin, which puts a brake on muscle development in the womb and on muscle growth after birth. Mice with a gene that shuts off myostatin were twice as muscled as normal mice, with half the fat.

Wyeth Pharmaceuticals is working on a drug to block myostatin production but it’s years from fruition. If scientists can find more living examples, they can see if the blockage is safe long-term.

If you are in fact just such a hunk, call H. Lee Sweeney, chair of the physiology department at the University of Pennsylvania. (And stay away from my granddaughter.)
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7/1/04: Yes, they will take your kidneys too!

Been thinking of donating your not-quite-in-prime-time body, or at least parts of it, for others’ benefit, but afraid it might be either rejected or no great bargain to the recipient?

I told the California DMV to put donor on my driver’s license, and have donated what they don’t snip to a medical school, but I felt like telling them that they might think twice about the kidneys and bladder. Only to be informed last week on a radio call-a-doctor show that just completed tests showed that kidneys from people 55+ are just as good as those from teens! Really? I can assure the lucky winner that mine all worked at any time of the day or night, especially the night.

I’m hoping they leave the voice box in so when those med students start horsing around with my limbs and artifacts I can give them the guttural scare of their lives!
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7/1/04: Boot camp for the brain?

Worried because things seem to fall out of your brain? Can’t remember why you walked into the room? Lost an item you just had in your hand? Don’t fret, and yes, that forgetting gets more frequent as we age.

But keep your eye open for some spin-offs from Dr. Gary Small’s two-week “boot camp for the brain.” (Small is a psychiatrist and the director of the UCLA Center on Aging.)

His program for improving memory combines four elements: a special diet, daily physical activity, stress release, and memory exercises. The details are in Small’s new book, The Memory Prescription, co-authored with Gigi Vorgan.

In summary, the diet is high in omega-3 fatty acids (mostly in nuts and some fish), lots of fruits and vegetables, and low in fat, with three meals and three snacks a day. Brief stretching, walking, and relaxation exercises are done several times a day, and his “memory aerobics” take 15 minutes daily. (Plenty of time left over to veg.)

His boot camp test found that participants developed significantly more efficient brain-cell activity in the front portion of the brain that controls everyday memory tasks or “working memory.” The people were also less forgetful and had higher memory scores.

Small comments that while there is no guarantee such activity will prevent Alzheimer’s disease, it may hold it off for five years or so. “It’s surprising how quickly you can make an impact on brain function, and this suggests you may be able to stave off future memory loss.” Lowering the systolic blood pressure, as happened in the UCLA study, might also help keep Alzheimer’s at bay.

In addition, “There’s new evidence that using medication to keep blood pressure at normal levels might delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Zaven Khachaturian, spokesman for the Alzheiner’s Association.
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5/1/04: What roles are most important to us?

It’s no surprise that our roles change as we age. For example, a salaried worker’s role declines as retirement begins while that of a volunteer worker gains in importance. So Dr. Neil Krause and associates at the University of Michigan conducted three studies investigating the relevance of role importance in the lives of some 2,500 older respondents (average age 73.9), as reported in Pulitzer’s Santa Maria Times on April 3, 2004.

The results, most predictable, are worth sharing.

* Is late adulthood a “roleless” time in our lives? Hardly. Of the eight roles suggested (spouse, parent, grandparent, other relative, friend, homemaker, provider, and volunteer worker), 1,000 respondents selected spouse, parent, and grandparent as the three most important, in that order.

*  Negative stressful effects were felt in direct relationship to the importance they gave the role. And it affected those roles by decreasing the feeling of control the participants felt they had over them.

* Four years later, regardless of the amount of negative life events associated with the roles, the roles were still highly valued and cherished. They simply did not want to devalue those roles that have been important parts of their lives for many years.

* Participants who believed they had a high degree of control over their most important role were much more likely to be alive after six years than participants who believed they had little control.
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5/1/04: Double good news if you’re thinking of living longer and better

Every time I read about a restricted diet helping me live longer, I imagine a sprouts, tofu, and celery soufflé and quickly conclude that chomping down on that three times a day would have me begging for a quick, painless exit.

I’m getting more interested as we get closer to a pill that will have the same effect on life extension as a calorie-restricted diet, maybe a pill that I could wash down with a chocolate milk shake or swallow with a hot dog.

Researchers led by Stephen R. Spindler of UC Riverside found that restricting calories in old mice (the human equivalent of 60-65 years of age) had an immediate benefit in slowing the aging process, and that eventually the animals lived up to six months (about 15 human years) longer than their litter mates eating a standard diet, as reported in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Of course, if they’d started on a low caloric diet right after birth the test mice would have lived twice as long as regular mice, and months longer than the aged mice reported.

We’re not sure that this translates directly to humans, but if it does, says Spindler, “(it) could mean a lot more years and a lot of good years. The mice on caloric restriction live longer and they are healthier.”

The study important, says Dr. George S. Roth of the National Institute of Aging, because “it suggests that you may get some of the same benefits starting late in life.”

As important, the researchers were able to determine how the genes changed in mice on the restricted caloric diets, thus isolating biomarkers of how to diet works to extend life. For 30 years science has been seeking such biomarkers so they could measure gene expression—the amount and type of proteins made by the genes—so, in part, they could find drugs that have the same effect on life extension as calorie-restricted diets.

With my luck, we’ll have to take two pills daily and the damn things will cost $500 apiece!
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3/1/04: Other medical discount cards than Medicare’s

The whole Medicare prescription bill signed by President Bush in November is confusing and is still shaking out, but in the meantime there are some prescription drug cards worth checking, particularly for those over 65 and with limited income. Most are run by the drug companies; some are better than the present Medicare offerings. Here are their websites:

* Together Rx (many of the largest drug firms working together)
* Pfizer
* Lily
* AARP

You might also want to check The National Council on the Aging for people 55+ about private and public health-care programs, including ones that cover prescription drugs, at http://www.benefitscheckup.org.
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3/1/04: Less salt, more potassium, and then there’s water …

Now that we’ve cut our salt intake to almost nothing, we’re told again to use far less. If we refuse or cheat? High blood pressure.

The Institute of Medicine is an independent scientific organization that advises the government on intake levels of key nutrients. In its long-awaited report, it zeroed in on salt and potassium. According to the study, we take in twice as much salt as we should, get only half as much potassium, and we can forget those “eight glasses of water a day”—the average person gets enough fluid from a variety of beverages, plus fruit and other foods.

Salt is the toughest to control because three-quarters of Americans' daily salt intake comes from sodium hidden in common processed and restaurant foods. Instead of the 2,400 milligrams now recommended, the new quota is 1,500, with those over 50, 1,300, and the 70+ group, 1,200.
The high blood pressure (of 50 million Americans) puts them at risk for heart attacks, strokes, and kidney disease. Weight reduction and exercise help lower blood pressure, but salt and blood pressure go hand-in-hand: too much salt, up it goes.

The American Public Health Association last year began pushing for the sodium in processed foods to be halved in 10 years.

Potassium, on the other hand, lowers blood pressure and reduces kidney diseases and bone loss. The study calls for a doubling in our intake, to 4,700 milligrams a day. Getting it from food sources like spinach, bananas, cantaloupe, and many other fruits and vegetables is better than
through supplements.
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3/1/04: New cancer trackers in the blood

We’re all familiar with biomarkers in the blood that pick up single, aberrant proteins that can detect different diseases. The most common is probably PSA, or prostate specific antigen, used to screen men for prostate cancer.

But one protein gone bad is seldom definitive. Most men with elevated PSA levels don’t have cancer at all, rather an enlarged prostate. They need a surgical biopsy to be certain.

A new study is taking proteomics (the study of all proteins in living cells) much farther. In studying ways to detect ovarian relapses (even ovarian cancer almost at the outset), a new method has been found that should have widespread application once the FDA approves it a few years
hence.  (In fact, two national testing labs, Quest Diagnostics and Lab-Corp, aren’t waiting. They hope to have the blood test available, by prescription, later this year for women at high risk of ovarian cancer because of genetic or family history.)

How does the new system work? According to the A.P.’s Lauren Neergaard on 2/1/04, “Proteins usually work through networks of circuit boardlike interactions that leave behind microscopic patterns. In a unique collaboration, scientists at the National Cancer Institute and FDA discovered how to measure those patterns with special technology that picks out protein fragments floating in blood, pattern that can show when normal cells have turned cancerous.”
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3/1/04: “Top 10 Health Mistakes”

It’s probably imprudent to ignore The Wall Street Journal’s “Top 10 Health Mistakes.” Kelly Greene extracted these ten from the Institute of Healthcare Advancement’s interview with 500 seniors about errors they make in caring for themselves. They first appeared in the Journal’s quarterly guide to retirement called “Encore.”

1. Driving when it’s no longer safe. (If you insist, please call me so I can hide indoors.)

2. Fighting the aging process and its appearance. (Use available assistance like hearing aids, dentures, glasses, a cane, a walker…)

3. Reluctance to talk about problems with doctors. (Don’t be afraid to mention urinary or sexual difficulties—or anything else.)

4. Not understanding what the doctor says. (Just say, “What?” “Please explain that another way…” or “Let me write that down…”)

5. Disregarding the serious risk of a fall. (Falls take too long to heal so get rid of scatter rugs; increase the lighting in your house; wear sturdy, well-fitting shoes, and watch for slopes or cracks in the sidewalk.)

6. Failing to have a plan for managing medication. (Keep a complete, detailed list of everything you take and when, then use daily schedules, pill-box containers, or check-off records when they are taken.)

7. Not having a single primary-care physician who oversees your treatment. (One trained overseer prevents over- or under-treatment.)

8. Not seeking medical help after early warning signs. (Would we keep driving if a warning light flashed on our dashboard? Inertia, denial, lack of money, or “I’m so old it doesn’t matter anyway” are poor excuses. We might even get cured!)

9. Failing to participate in prevention programs. (Like flu and pneumonia shots and routine breast and prostate exams.)

10. Not asking loved ones for help. (Don’t want to lose your independence? Afraid you’re getting senile? Ask for help so the situation can be treated, or before it gets any worse…)
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1/1/04: Some surprising health facts from recent studies…

* There are 40% less hip fractures in seniors who walk four hours a week.

* Plan B will soon become a purchasable item at the pharmacy: a high-dose oral contraceptive that prevents fertilization or the implementation of a fertilized egg within 72 hours after intercourse. (Unlike RU 486, it cannot induce an abortion.) The decision should be announced within days or weeks. In the meantime, safe or no sex is suggested if a new baby isn’t in your second-life plans.

* Those who are grateful for what they have suffer fewer illnesses.

* The sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays penetrating your car window are probably the cause of the much higher ratio of pre-cancerous lesions on the left side of the face (rather than the right), says Scott W. Fosko, MD, from St. Louis. The prevention? When driving, use as much silk screen as you would on the beach.

* A person fit at 70 can be as strong as one unfit at 30.

And a non-health fact that you may have already suspected: in this year where there are scarcely enough bushes for terrorists to hide under, every word of this newsletter is being read by the FBI as you read it. If you doubt that, see http://users.chartertn.net/tonytemplin/FBI_eyes/.
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1/1/04: Alzheimer’s research looks promising

Scientists are again on track to develop a safe and effective Alzheimer’s vaccine that would melt away the abnormal brain deposits thought to cause the disease. That could result in something close to a cure for the 14 million Americans expected to develop the disease in the coming decades.

Two years ago an Irish drug firm halted their study of a similar vaccine because it triggered life-threatening brain swelling in 15 of 360 volunteers. But new results first announced in USA Today on July 28 showed promise that within five years the vaccine would indeed exist. But there is no way of knowing, in advance, if the vaccine will clear the confusion the disease causes or if its side effects will be too great.

Surprising hope comes from the results of some of those volunteers, where 19 of 28 studied did in fact create antibodies from several doses of the vaccine; 12 of the 19 had memory or cognitive tests that either stayed the same or improved during a year-long study, and two had test scores that shot to the near-normal range, suggesting a reverse of the damage done by the disease. One volunteer’s autopsy also showed that the vaccine had all but eliminated the gummy deposits found in Alzheimer’s.

In fact, another approach may prove faster and safer: injection of antibodies themselves rather than expecting the vaccine to create them.

The hope is to stop the disease early on since plaque builds up for years before its full effects are felt. New imaging devises being tested might soon allow doctors to peer into the human brain and identify those small, early deposits. Then with a plaque-busting drug, the early deposits might be destroyed, keeping the disease at bay for a lifetime.

Will 2004 bring this much awaited good news?
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1/1/04: Doctor, can you spare my dime?

Any of us can now be reduced genetically to a chip about the size of a dime! Two firms can now sell you a “gene chip” with your 30,000 genes on a small piece of glass for $350-500. Interested? Contact Affymetrix, Inc. or Agilent Technologies.

Don’t let anybody ever tell you again that you’re not worth a dime!

The real question is whether we can just mail in our chip for our annual physical?
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1/1/04: A real plaque buster?

The Plaque-Buster is what they’re calling Apo A-1 Milano, which came from the blood of specific villagers in Limone sul Garda in the Italian Alps. It’s a protein that appears to reverse years of coronary plaque build-up in a few weeks by hauling away cholesterol. It could serve as the long-sought complement to other blockbuster drugs like statins.

According to Roger Newton, who helped develop Lipitor, the new protein is a turbocharged version of high-density HDL (the good cholesterol that carries fats from arteries) that works with unusual efficiency and breaks down quickly.

Steve Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic “didn’t think it had a 1-in-10,000 chance of working.” But in the November Journal of the A.M.A. he announced startling results: five weekly infusions reduced arterial deposits by an average of 4% and some plaques by more than 30%. The 4% reduction in six weeks, while on the surface not exciting, has the medical world amazed. Now we must see the results reproduced in large numbers repeatedly, then how it can be translated into clinical benefits. In the meantime, the drug company Pharmacia (Pfizer) is trying to figure out exactly how it works!
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11/1/03: A potpourri of health shorts:

* All relationships aren’t stressful. Having positive or negative feelings about someone causes little change in blood pressure during a social interaction. It is the people about whom the tested person has ambivalent or conflicting feelings that create the most stress—mostly because they require effort and attention and are unpredictable. Enough such encounters could have a potential effect on a person’s health. So said July’s Health Psychology, based on a unique, live test by Brigham Young University’s Julianne Holt-Lunstad.

* Half of America’s elderly (65+) will get one of three chronic eye diseases: glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy (a deterioration of the retina caused by diabetes) or age-related macular degeneration (which erases vision from the center outward). Those 65+ will increase from 34 million in 2000 to 70 million in 2030, “which will challenge the ability of the health care system to provide adequate medical care,” says Frank Sloane of Duke University. Read fast.

* If you were lucky enough to be born into a family with giant, or at least supersized, lipoprotein particles that carry cholesterol through the bloodstream, you’re a good candidate for exceptional longevity (over 90 years of age). Recent research shows, however, that exercise can also enlarge the particles. Smaller particles more easily embed themselves in the blood vessel walls, contributing to the fatty buildups that lead to heart attacks and strokes, according to a study led by Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and reported in the Oct. 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
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9/1/03: A potpourri of short health items…

* A chemical that boosts the effectiveness of a thyroid hormone may one day help people lose weight and cut cholesterol without the rapid heartbeat sometimes associated with thyroid stimulants. Very early but very promising.

* Folks 65+ who eat fish at least once a week (including tuna sandwiches, fishsticks, and shellfish) may cut their risk of Alzheimer’s by 60% versus those who never or rarely eat fish. Seems to be related to omega-3 fatty acid. A small study.

* If you want more information about the tests your doctor has ordered  (like why they are given and how to evaluate the results), 150+ tests are well explained at http://www.labtestsonline.org. The site also says that 50+ adults should test for skin cancer annually and potential thyroid problems every five years.

* Put walnuts in your diet. Not only are they the second highest source of antioxidants (after rose hips), eating 1.5 ounces a day can help reduce the risk of heart disease plus will meet your daily requirements of essential omega-3 fatty acids.

* Polio will be eradicated in 2005 if a new concentration of money and effort in India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Egypt (which accounted for 99% of the 235 cases this year) is successful. WHO is heading the campaign to spread the immunity and stop polio’s local transmission and foreign exportation. (Do you remember having to get out of the swimming pool ten minutes each hour to somehow stop the spread of polio?)

* While it’s several years away, a vaccine has twice been tested in humans that will block CETP, a protein that instigates the conversion of good HDL into bad LDL. “If the (tests) hold up, they would be a big home run and move us into the next step in preventing first and second heart attacks,” says Dr. Richard A. Stein of the American Heart Association.
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9/1/03: Who tells whom when to pull the plug?

It’s called “the conversation” and it’s usually held between older parents and their adult children about the life-sustaining treatments they would and would not consider acceptable at the end of their lives, like feeding tubes, resuscitation, and so on.

But you can hold that conversation with yourself at any age, then get your wishes on paper so there is no question (nor suffering beyond your wishes).

According to an interesting article by Jennifer Lenhart in the Oct. 22, 2000 Washington Post, these specifics are written down in an advance medical directive, which typically includes a living will, and is filed with the patient’s doctors, lawyers, and loved ones. A good source for information here is http://www.choices.org.

Look for a local end-of-life planning program in your area, often given by the hospital, a senior center, some churches, or the local Council on Aging. Says Lenhart, “The rising interest in end-of-life documents—other than wills—springs from a convergence of factors. People are living longer, advances in medical science continue to prolong the lives of the seriously ill, and the numbers of baby boomers taking care of aging parents continues to grow.”

Only 10% of the people have these in effect now. The directives are legal documents that specify acceptable medical care in the event of certain illnesses, tell the doctor whether to prolong life in terminal situations, and who is in charge of medical decisions if a patient becomes incompetent.

They are particularly useful when families are spread out widely and there are diverging opinions on the patient’s treatment. Once it’s on the proper papers and distributed, the decision is made by the person most directly affected: the one who is dying.
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9/1/03: Are your teeth smart enough to repair themselves?

Imagine a world without Novocain and drills, where your teeth actually repair themselves. It’s coming! In fact, the substance already exists that will repair defective teeth, prevent decay, and eventually make fillings obsolete.

According to Dr. Frederick Eichmiller of the ADA Health Foundation, “This will be the next step beyond fluoride.” (At our age, we remember the steps before fluoride, mostly Dr. Death and his foot-treadle drill.)

The new material is a composite of calcium and phosphate (the essential building blocks of teeth) that mimics the teeth’s natural repair mechanism. But when the bacteria that destroy teeth get out of balance, decay takes place. This new material will be used in dental drilling materials and adhesives to get that balance back, for self-repair. The new composite is carried by the saliva to surround the tooth environment.

Where will it be used first? As adhesive cement under orthodontic brackets, to turbo charge the plastic sealants used to coat children’s teeth, and as a liner underneath conventional cavity fillers, to extend the life of fillings and prevent further decay.
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9/1/03: The stuff that miracle cures can come from.

Isn’t it odd how a new look at an old idea can revolutionize life? It’s the same in science, which is awash in debris of supposed miracle cures and dead ends.

Just such a “new slant” has biotechnology atwitter. Legitimate “miracle cures” are now a true possibility in a fraction of the time. Called “RNA interference,” it is revamping how molecular scientists think and act in everything from Alzheimer’s to crops, even coffee decaffeination. “It has totally changed my research,” says Phillip Sharp, MIT’s Nobel laureate in gene research, who focuses on cancer and hepatitis.

It was originally thought that RNA was a passive messenger that took the DNA’s recipe from the cell’s nucleus and delivered it to the protein-building machines called ribosomes. But recently it’s been found that double-stranded RNA patrols the genome for the purpose of silencing mutant genes. The idea is to determine which genes need to be silenced and make that happen. The concept isn’t new; the same effect is tried using “antisense” research, but the new process works far better and quicker.

What does it mean to us? (1) Rather than having to determine what each of the 35,000 genes does, it saves time, energy, and money by, instead, turning it off to see what happens (and thus what its function is), and (2) it will make “magic bullet” drugs quickly possible, where bad cells are targeted and treated while healthy cells are unaffected, which is impossible with chemotherapy and radiation. It’s still at the experimental stage but hopes are very high. “If the technology can be made to work,” says Sharp, “there’s a long list of diseases it can be applied to.”
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7/1/03: TB is down and obesity is way up.

Very good news: tuberculosis cases are the lowest since the United States started reporting in 1953, a 5.7% drop in 2002 from 2001. The 15,078 cases reported (or 5.2 cases per 100,000 people) are disproportionate by race, however. TB rates among blacks are eight times that of whites and twice that of Hispanics. The national decline was attributed to better public health prevention services. (Remember when we were kids how many families had somebody in a sanitarium? I think most called them “fresh-air farms.”)

It’s no surprise that obesity stays in the news as we as a nation keep growing heavier. But the results of a study released in April in the New England Journal of Medicine by the American Cancer Society show how serious overweight can be. The key conclusion was that 90,000 cancer deaths a year could be prevented if American adults would maintain normal weights.

The studies followed 900,000 cancer-free people in 1982. In the following 16 years, 57,000 had died of cancer. More significant, the heaviest members had death rates from all types of cancer that were 52% higher for men and 62% for women, than their counterparts of normal weight. After factoring out other causes of cancer, like smoking, the researchers discovered that obesity was the crucial and dominant factor. The obese also had far greater chances of getting diabetes and hypertension.
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7/1/03: Good news concerning Alzheimer’s.

There was much dashed hope for a new vaccine recently that showed signs of producing deposit-fighting antibodies on the brain when a fraction of the patients developed serious brain inflammation. But hope is returning on the news that 19 of the 28 people studied did indeed have the new antibodies, and that 12 of the 19 had memory test scores that stabilized or got better during the year-long study.

So the task now is to develop a new, revised form of the vaccine, and to begin human testing again within a year. Such a fix “would be an enormous breakthrough,” says Bengt Winblad of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

At the same time, new tests keep confirming that an active mind may indeed help people withstand the ravages of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia that affect about 10% of Americans over 65.

The most recent study, reported in mid-June in the New England Journal of Medicine, bolsters the idea further. For 21 years, 469 elderly people were followed by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and researchers found that those who engaged in mentally stimulating leisure activities—board games, doing crossword puzzles, playing a musical instrument, and even dancing—reduced the risk of developing dementia. The more often they participated in those activities, the more they seemed to be protected against mental decline. Chess anyone?
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7/1/03: Everybody will be taking a powder.

From Canada comes a new use for a powder made from freeze-dried egg yolks—as if we had a lot of that sitting around! It might be the key to food safety in the future!

The powder turns out to be a strong antibody that can be sprinkled on meat, fruit, and vegetables to guard against common food-borne germs including E. coli and salmonella. Instead of binding to the intestine (causing infection), the germs bind to the antibodies and are eliminated as waste. The powder is tasteless and remains active for one to two hours after being eaten.

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7/1/03: Less stress at 60, particularly for women?

So says a large MacArthur Foundation/National Institute of Mental Health study test just completed, according to Marilyn Elias of USA Today.  While women always feel more stress at every age, it significantly drops for both as they age.

Part of the gender difference comes from the kinds of stress men and women feel. Men’s problems center on the job, while woman also feel emotional strain from problems of relatives and friends. Also, women have 30 minutes less free time a day than men, compared with no leisure gap between the sexes in 1965 and 1975.

“But society wouldn’t be better off if women lowered their stress levels by imitating men,” says psychologist Abigail Stewart. “Women are doing a lot of invisible work that’s essential to human existence. We think of stress as only negative, but it reflects active challenged lives. It’s just that men need to do more relating to people and sharing the load.”

Three specifics for seniors:

(1) Midlifers had the most tension about money—not the lack of it, but concerns over how to use what they have.

(2) From 60-74, women had stress on 32% of the days; men, 25%, compared to 44 and 39 for those 25-59.

(3) The older adults had a lower stress ratio because they coped with stress better, not allowing it to sour their mood or provoke physical symptoms.

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5/1/03: Save me some of those genius genes.

Daily, Dr. Gott shares medical advice in my local (Santa Maria, CA) newspaper. Turns out he’s
one of us, at 72: a second-life plugger. I paid particular attention when somebody asked him,
“Are gifted people the products of special genes?”

I was hoping that he’d say no, that every morning special gifts are given out at ____. They were
given free to the first 30 in line, so I could trot over, slip in line, and get what had obviously been
left out of my birth package.

But he said yes, often they are! And he used as an example a unique ability that seems to be
unrelated to environment: perfect pitch, saying the Itzhak Perlman, Andre Previn, Jean Sibelius,
and Nat “King” Cole had it, were
born with it, and nobody can learn it. So there.

Moreover, it is inherited, but it is also far more often linked to migraine headaches and learning
disabilities than would randomly happen in families. The task now is to find the gene(s) where this
uniqueness lies, as they have done for dyslexia, Wilms’ tumor, Marfan syndrome (which Abraham
Lincoln apparently had), Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis,
Fragile X syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, polycistic kidney disorder, and breast cancer.

If they can find that gene, they can gain starter insights into not only that singular tonal identification
ability but perhaps also into migraines and learning disorders.

In the meantime, I’m going to have to keep hitting-and-missing the pick-up notes at the
Barbershop rehearsals. The guys next to me are no help. They got the same discordant genes I
got!
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3/1/03: A Practical Anti-Aging Plan, says Johns Hopkins.

Genes account for a third of the problems associated with aging. Two-thirds are lifestyle choices, or so say the editors of Health After 50 and the experts at Johns Hopkins. And if we take the right steps, many of the illnesses of age (including arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis) can be prevented until very late in life. (Then they just have to slug it out for our riddled old shells.)

So here it comes, their 11-step practical, anti-aging plan:

1. Get moving. Single most potent antidote to aging: free and anybody can do it.
2. Don’t smoke. Duh. But it’s never too late, or too smart, to quit.
3. Follow a healthy diet. Don’t just follow it, eat it. Five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Lower the fats. Watch the cholesterol.
4. Use supplements wisely. Take one standard multivitamin a day; women, add calcium.
5. Drink enough water. Elders dehydrate. You need 6-8 glasses of clear fluids.
6. Avoid excess exposure to the sun. Aging skin and eyes are vulnerable to sun damage.
7. Reduce stress. To repair the immune system exercise or use yoga or meditation.
8. Challenge your mind. Learn new skills and maintain old ones. So you forget a little…
9. Limit alcohol consumption. If you must, one drink a day, but don’t quit abstention now.
10. Cultivate satisfying relationships. Positive social interaction, including sex, does wonders.
11. Consider preventive medicine. A low-dose aspirin, maybe hormone replacement therapy.

One added thought from the plan: “Three key factors predict strong mental function: regular physical activity, strong social support, and belief in your ability.”

If you want a copy of this two-sided plan (with a few more details on the 11 steps), just contact me and I’ll mail you a copy of my copy. Be sure to include your address! (And if you’re reading a pass-along copy of my newsletter, it’s free so send me your email address too and you can have your own, original copy, to pass along to somebody else!)
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1/1/03: Cosmetic procedures for the 65+ have more than tripled the past five years.

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, those over 65 getting cosmetic surgery rose from about 120,000 in 1997 to 425,000 last year. Why? To get a new look, or at least less of the old one. The most popular procedures were facelifts, Botox injections, chemical peels, and laser wrinkle removal.

“This is a youth-oriented culture. People are more interested in looking young,” said James Mortimor, director of the Institute of Aging at the University of South Florida. “People live longer than ever, they are healthier, they date and remain sexually active for more years, and some in the work force into their 70s are seeking ways to compete with the younger workers.”

There is still some resistance, however. Virginia Moore, 81, a former professional ice skater who still plays doubles tennis twice a week, had a facelift in Naples, Florida, in 2001, where she spends half a year. It didn’t get a lot of attention there but when she went home to the small town of Simcoe, Ontario, it created a minor stir. “All my friends are still talking about it. It’s not a common thing here. I know of one other person who had a facelift and she certainly never spoke of it.”

Many speak of its confidence-building virtues. But some experts also wonder whether seniors with at least a low level of depression might turn too readily to surgery.
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1/1/03: Okay already, you can do less exercise!

Have you noticed lately that hard-core exercise (the gym, sweat, and special training shoes) is falling out of favor? It seems that we no longer have to grind for 60 minutes a day at least three days a week. That’s been the theme of four different items I read and heard these last two months.

The new fitness gurus tell us we can cut that into pieces, like four 15s, and all we need to start making big gains on heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some cancers, stress, and overweight is to burn 200-300 more calories a day! But we can‘t just eat one less candy bar. We still need the physical activity.

Ways to work out lite? Park across the lot at the mall, get off the bus one stop early, walk the stairs, stand and walk when you’re on the phone, garden, paint the porch, clean the basement, even repair those appliances I will soon mention…

Personally, I like the older regimen where sweating was sacred. But I have lost 17 pounds in three months the easiest way possible: I don’t eat after 7:30 p.m., gave up chocolate (and other) ice cream, switched water for soda pop, and don’t eat pizza. Frankly, I miss every sacrifice and have cheated once or twice on all but the pizza, but I sure like running, swimming, cycling, and golfing (my not-so-lite sins) a lot more when there’s 17 pounds less of this nearly-65-year-old carcass to put through the rigors.
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1/1/03: Medicare, Medigap, HMOs, and long-term-care insurance.

Three particularly important points worth sharing in Jonathan Pond’s article “Secrets of Shrewd Money Management in a Volatile Economy” in the December 2002 Bottom Line Tomorrow.

(1) Don’t overinsure. When we qualify for Medicare, if we go that route we should buy Medigap insurance to pick up where the other leaves off. But we shouldn’t get Medigap if we’re in a Medicare HMO. And don’t buy policies with features we don’t need or won’t use.

(2) If we’re going to buy long-term-care insurance, it’s best to get it in our 50s before we develop health problems that will make us ineligible for coverage.

(3) Buying long-term-care insurance makes no sense if we have less than $500,000 in assets—we can’t afford it—and if we have $1 million (single) or $1.5 (couple) in assets—we don’t need it since we can afford to pay for the care we require. If we’re in between, shop carefully. The rates are cheaper the earlier we get them.
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1/1/03: Medical miracles, some just in time!

What has really bowled me over these past two months is an avalanche of medical miracles that were completely unanticipated even 30 years ago. Lest this newsletter be 20 pages long, let me summarize the most exciting or surprising here:

* Cervical cancer could be wiped out worldwide! (It is now the second-most lethal malignancy for women in the world, after breast cancer.) One genetically engineered vaccine will be available in five years that should eradicate half of the cases; other vaccines are being tested that will take care of the rest.

* A new form of treating cancer, PDT (photodynamic therapy) has added prostate cancer to the list. After an injection of a photosensitive drug, doctors wait until the drug migrates to the cancer, then they shine a light on it, which destroys the tumor.

* Type 1 diabetes (killing 450,000 Americans a year) may be near elimination. Dr. Denise Faustman’s selected a protein-based cure (rather than gene therapy) to study in mice, and now has a 100% cure rate, plus pancreas regeneration during the healing! It involves tiny doses of TNF-alpha and MCH-class 1 protein complex. It may take 10 years for the first prescription.

* Four projected dates in J. Alex Tarquinio’s November 2002 article in Reader’s Digest are exciting: 2003, artificial blood made from animal protein that matches all types and stores safely without refrigeration; 2005, anti-cavity mouthwash; taken once, the genetically modified bacteria leaves you cavity-free for life, 2006, a vaccine to quit smoking that blocks addictive chemicals from crossing into the brain, and 2007, an artificial pancreas: a sensor monitors blood glucose levels in diabetics, telling an implanted pump to release insulin.

* Awaiting human experimentation but highly promising, a new form of vitamin D that would reverse bone loss without toxic side effects in the 44,000,000 Americans with osteoporosis. Reported by biochemist Hector F. DeLuca, it is a new analog (look-alike) form called 2MD.

* A non-surgical treatment for uterine fibroids is good news for millions of women. In final clinical tests, the treatment involves beaming high-intensity ultrasound by MRI through the abdominal wall into the uterus where it heats and kills the fibroid tumors.

* Restore motion to a paralyzed arm or leg by running a wire to the brain? Brown and Arizona State Universities are studying this. The goal is a thumbnail-sized computer chip implanted in the brain so amputees may have the dexterity to write with a pen or use a power tool.

* And regrow teeth! Within a decade dentists will be able to use the recently discovered PAX9 master gene to grow full and customized teeth where mature teeth are pulled! According to dentist Rena D’Souza, head researcher at the University of Texas at Houston, they have already grown mouse teeth. Gone will be implants, root canals, and dentures—although the Billy Bob fake teeth you buy at the fair will surely remain!
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11/1/02: Hiding in those glossy college magazines...

If you went to college, you no doubt receive a glossy magazine from that institution that tells you what the school is up to and what marvels its faculty (and sometimes students) are performing. Now if you'd just send a million bucks or two, imagine what more they could be doing...

I went to a lot of schools, as hard as that may be to believe, and somehow I got on many other mailing lists, so I get at least 30 of these a year. The most surprising thing is that they are full of interesting stuff.

For example, the latest to arrive is the University of Georgia's Research Magazine, which yielded two items worth sharing with the 50+ crowd.

One tells of Jarrat Jordan's UGA doctoral research on a protein that will help stop pneumonia from ever getting a foothold in our lungs. Important? There is no vaccine at present for walking pneumonia, which causes a third of all the two million pneumonia cases afflicting Americans annually. Thanks to a mutant strain of a bacterium P30, Jordan’s study is helping create a vaccine that will both impede the protein's attachment and its movement. (More at mailto:Jarrat@uga.edu).

The second article in that issue is far more palatable. UG's food science professor Casimir Akoh has just patented some new, enzyme-produced structured lipids, fat substitutes that can taste every bit as good as fatty foods yet reduce weight and over-all cholesterol by 49%. Where might these lipids be inserted to produce healthy food? In chocolate, mayonnaise, salad dressings, and confectionery coatings! When they get the flavor, aroma, color, and aftertaste worked out, forget the meal, just bring the treats!
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11/1/02: All you want to know about yourself on your own CD?

When we were kids our mothers could read our minds and would usually be planted plunk in the way to prevent our next misadventure. But our bodies were pretty much our own business.

Then somebody discovered genomes, DNA, and the four letters and bar code that could tell anybody anything they ever wanted to know about the real us.

But it wasn't cheap. J. Craig Venter's genome took 15 years, $5 billion, and some spiffy software to compile. Soon the price will be down to $500,000 to have your entire DNA sequences burned onto compact discs, and in the not-too-distant future Venter hopes to have it available for $1,000 a person, to be paid for by your insurance company and probably stored in your doctor's office.

Such optical marvels aren't without hitches, though. Will your spouse-to-be insist on reading the CDs before taking your hand? Will prospective employers or insurers use the knowledge to deny you a job or coverage? Will they be able to decipher your lust gene?

Stayed tuned. (But if you have to show it to your mother, you're sunk.)
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9/1/02: Drug prices, and some drugs that hardly work at all.

I hardly need to tell you that the prices of the 50 most prescribed drugs for older Americans rose, on average, almost triple the overall rate of inflation this past year, according to a study from Families USA, based on research from Stephen W. Schondelmeyer, a pharmacist and economist at the University of Minnesota. Why? Apparently drug companies are raising prices in the expectation that Congress will soon add drug coverage to Medicare and put new pressure or limits on those prices.

The average annual cost for a drug in the top 50 list was $1,070 last year. (You might save some money by convincing your doctor to put you on a less popular drug.)

Worse, some of the drugs—antidepressants—are barely better than placebos, according to 47 studies used by the Food and Drug Administration for approval of the six most widely prescribed pills used between 1987 and 1999. Those drugs were Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Celexa, Effexor, and Serzone.

In the July 15 report in Prevention and Treatment by University of Connecticut psychologist Irving Kirsch and co-author Thomas Moore, while overall antidepressant pills worked 18% better than placebos, half of the 47 studies found that patients on antidepressants improved no more than those on placebos.

But many in the mental health field don’t accept the results. “We’ve seen over and over that these drugs work, but they work best along with psychotherapy,” says psychiatrist Michelle Riba of the University of Michigan Depression Center in Ann Arbor.
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9/1/02: Three bright new lights in Alzheimer’s research.

Two different techniques, both using PET scans, promise an early detection of senile plaque in brain regions most affected by Alzheimer’s. (The four million now affected have had to undergo a battery of tests ruling out other conditions causing memory loss, and the only way at present to be sure one has Alzheimer’s is by autopsy.)

Since there is no cure at present, why would a person want to know about early plaque formation? The new one-stop diagnosis could at least speed up the effort to find new treatments, such as seeing whether experimental drugs could stop the plaque from forming.

It’s one of the most significant breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s research—ever,” says Stephen McConnell, interim president of the Alzheimer’s Association. The findings suggest that brain scans may find plaque developing insidiously before the symptoms of memory loss surface.

The findings must now be confirmed in larger studies before they become widely used, reports Kathleen Fackelmann in USA Today.
 
 


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A new theory being aggressively tested in that too much cholesterol circulating in the bloodstream is bad for both the heart and brain, says Fackelmann. In the latter case, the cholesterol causes neurons in the brain to dump out a toxic protein called beta amyloid, and that protein gets clumped together with dead and dying nerve cells to form senile plaque.

The primary study uses Lipitor, a prescription statin. The researcher for the Lipitor study, Larry Sparks of the Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City, Arizona, believes statins may hold the line on Alzheimer’s or perhaps prevent it from developing in the first place. Sparks suggests that another way of lowering cholesterol is by eating a low-fat diet, particularly one with lots of vitamin E. His suggested foods? Fruits (strawberries and oranges) and vegetables (leafy greens, like kale and spinach).
 
 


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Another, new scientific study released by the Alzheimer’s Association showed that people who adopt a healthy lifestyle may reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Here’s what to do to keep your brain healthy:

* Don’t smoke.
* Exercise regularly.
* Maintain a healthy body weight.
* Keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check.
* Eat a low-fat diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
* Maintain a social life and actively use your mind.
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7/1/02: Alzheimer’s and vitamins E and C.

At last, a reliable set of studies that provides a conclusive link between antioxidants and the reduction of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the latest Journal of the American Medical Association, by eating vitamin E-rich foods such as nuts, vegetable oils, and leafy vegetables the risk of developing the disease can be lowered as much as 70%. According to lead researcher Martha Morris at the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging in Chicago, people who ate lots of leafy vegetables, such as kale and collards, showed the least risk of Alzheimer’s. But it must be the real thing; supplements didn’t provide the same effect, if any.

A second study, in Holland following 5,000 people over six years, found similar results. Those most benefited ate more than 15 milligrams of vitamin E each day.

One of the studies also found that vitamin C-rich foods, such as oranges and tomatoes, can also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

So I guess we back up the big-leaf truck and dig in—if we can remember. Somehow a bowl of kale, even bathed in vegetable oil and sprinkled with nuts, doesn’t make my mouth water. I may nibble at the grass, rely more on beer nuts, and hope for a more palatable study to reach JAMA.
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7/01/02: Aspirin and lung cancer risk.

At our age lung cancer, like breast cancer, is a major concern. So it’s good news to see that a New York University School of Medicine study of 14,000 women reveals that while smoking was the biggest factor in developing the disease, women who took aspirin regularly had less than half the normal risk of suffering from the most common form of lung cancer. The study in the current British Journal of Cancer says that aspirin is also proven to relieve headaches and help prevent heart attacks and strokes.
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7/01/02: Finally, breast cancer not linked to birth-control pills.

For years there has been the niggling fear (and several confirming smaller studies) that the 80% of women born after 1945 who took oral contraceptives were increasing their breast-cancer risk. So the federal government sponsored a major new study involving 9,257 women to again study the link. The results are conclusive and good news.

There is no link whether the women took birth-control pills as teenagers or adults, the pills were high or low in estrogen, they were taken for months or years, the taker was white or black, or even if there was a family history of breast cancer.

“Every which way you look at it … there’s no risk” of breast cancer associated with birth-control pills, according to Kathy Helzlsouer, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University who co-wrote the commentary accompanying the findings in the June 27, 2002 New England Journal of Medicine.

Alas, taking the pills isn’t totally neutral regarding women’s health. Oral contraceptives reduce the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer and may increase the risk of cervical cancer. They also increase the risk of blood clots in the legs and lungs, strokes, and liver cancer, although such events are rare. In women over 35 who smoke, they also increase the risk of heart attacks.
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5/1/02: The latest scoop on your favorite disease or affliction!

As I was putting this newsletter to bed, my May New Choices magazine arrived. Good stuff, with one section that is particularly useful that you should know about right now.

Called the “Health Resources Guide,” it includes eight pages of specific, updated (this is the third edition) names, addresses, and websites of 213 “organizations (that) provide accurate, unbiased facts and advice.” These include specific references to allergies and respiratory problems, cancer, the digestive system, ears, the endocrine system, exercise, eyes, feet, headaches, heart, men’s health, mental health, nutrition, muscles and bones, prescriptions, skin, sleep, teeth and gums, travel health, and women’s health.

Check the most appropriate sites to see what is being done about your pet malady or syndrome. Then keep at it: no area is changing faster than medicine, and the cutting-edge changes appear here.

If you don’t subscribe to the magazine, copy the section at your library. (Or wait until June 1 or earlier when I update my links page at http://www.agemasters.com/ssllinks.htm and will include any of these new names and addresses on it. I apologize for the delay. I’m in the middle of getting the third edition of my Travel Writer’s Guide book to the printer.)

The editors also suggest four more Internet sources for broader links:

* Medline Plus Health information at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus

* Healthfinder at http://www.healthfinder.gov

* Medem (a consortium of medical organizations that has put consumer information on one site) at http://www.medem.com

* CenterWatch (to learn about clinical trials for a specific condition) at http://www.centerwatch.com/main.htm or at http://clinicaltrials.gov
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5/1/02: Is there a male menopause?

There may be, although its cause is not as obvious nor does it arrive with the precision that it does for women (45-50, and directly linked to the cessation of ovulation). It’s also harder to clearly differentiate from the natural effects of aging.

According to Theresa Crenshaw, M.D., "Men experience a 'lite' version of menopause—physically, that is—called viropause. Their hormones and neuropeptides diminish, albeit less abruptly. Their bodies sag and change shape. Characteristic medical conditions like enlarged prostate develop. Sexual functioning is often compromised by hormonal imbalance, disease, medications, mind, or mood. Their stamina and temperament alter as well. Emotionally, like their female counterparts, men can have repercussions from viropause of catastrophic magnitude, including severe depression and suicide. Yet often they are less well equipped to deal with these extremes than women."

According to Jed Diamond, author of Male Menopause and founder of the Men’s Health Center in San Rafael, California, the changes in men are more gradual and less apparent than in women. They usually take place from 40-55, but can occur from 35-65. The most common signs? Anger, irritability, erectile dysfunction or reduced libido, and fatigue. As men age their testosterone levels also drop, their lean muscle mass declines, and they put on weight.

In other words, after a certain point we guys can expect to get fat, limp, slow, grumpy, and depressed. (It must be true. Just reading this has me depressed.)

Given all that, isn’t it a miracle that we’re still so lovable!

Diamond adds that many of the changes are part of the psychological “second adulthood,” which can “bring more power and passion than any other time of life. That’s when men shift from a focus on career to a focus on their ‘calling.’ They want to do something that they enjoy, but that also helps their community and the world.”

Is there any cure for male menopausal, since the aging itself is irreversible?

Diamond’s book speaks of a low-fat diet, lots of exercise (mixing aerobics with strength training and stretching), and an annual PSA test for prostate cancer. Possible testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) might help to lose fat, gain muscle, and increase sex drive—but only after the PSA test. And, of course, there’s always Viagra.

Want to read more good stuff? See http://www.menalive.com.
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5/1/02: Long-term health insurance?

My skepticism on the value of buying this, particularly when one is in their 50s, is decreasing. There is an excellent, well-documented argument in favor of doing so in the April issue at http://www.seniorresouce.com, another age-related newsletter well worth having. Free too.

(Senior Resources also points us to http://www.realage.com to verify our “real” age, on the premise that many of us think of ourselves as 10 to 15 years younger than we really are. The site uses a questionnaire to factor our chronological age with our degree of wellness or fitness.)
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5/1/02: Beyond 50: An AARP Report on Trends in Health Security

There are many interesting conclusions in this AARP report that will be released to the public later this month. Much of the research is original; it is combined with a wide array of previously published research findings. The 10-and 20-year trends will particularly impact us, but also health care providers, insurer communities, public policy makers, and health care consumers.

Some highlights:

* Persons age 50 and older are living longer and generally report being healthier than their predecessors. Rates of disability among older adults have been declining. But with the growing aging population there are more people age 50 and older with chronic conditions and/or limitations in their ability to function. There is also a rising incidence of obesity among 50+ Americans.

* Average spending per person over age 50 has gone up; prescription drugs count for larger share of spending; chronic conditions account for an increasing share of dollars spent on health care; out-of-pocket spending on long-term care, along with that for prescription drugs, represents the greatest health-related financial risk for older Americans.

* Younger 50+ Americans are more likely to use complementary or alternative medicine. The younger segment is also likely to believe doctors will tell them about medical mistakes.

* Experts have long agreed that health care cost, quality, and access define what we mean by health security. But, as the Beyond 50 report shows, navigation of the health care system and personal well-being must also be taken into account as equally indispensable elements of health security.

* 50 to 64 year-olds tend to view the health and long-term care systems differently than do people age 65 and older. Moreover, the perceptions and preferences of people age 50 and older do not match reality in several key areas. Our report strongly suggests that younger segments of the 50+ population (i.e. those between 50 and 64) consume health care with more skepticism and more "proactively" than those over age 65.

* Affordability of health care also remains a major challenge for virtually all segments of the 50+ population, especially when it comes to prescription drugs and long-term care. Low health literacy contributes to the mismatch between reality and perception around issues such as quality of care, pain control at end of life, long-term care options, and private long-term care insurance.

* An evolution is taking place among the younger cohort of 50+ Americans that affects the way they consume the care you provide. These changes will challenge health care providers to seek ways to treat patients as active participants in decision-making about the quality and value of their care. They demand good and complete information about their choices and will, based on that information, "vote with their feet."

* While there is a high prevalence of chronic conditions among 50+ Americans, even among the relatively young age cohorts (50 to 64), the systems that serve the chronically ill remains oriented largely toward acute medical care. Increasingly, the health care needs of this population involve a range of services that span the spectrum of physician, inpatient, outpatient, and long-term care.
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3/1/02: Who do you call for poison control?

Good luck finding the local or state number while you, a friend, or a family member turns blue or drops to the ground, foaming.

Put this near every phone: POISON HELP at 1-800-222-1222. That number (as of 2/1/02 ) reaches all of the 65 local poison control centers in the U.S. (Or carry this copy of the SSL Newsletter with you at all times.) If you memorized their old numbers, they will still work too.

Use the number both for emergency help and for non-emergency information.

“More than 75% of calls to poison centers can be entirely managed over the phone,” according to Rose Ann Soloway, associate director of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. “That means faster assistance for a distressed family, plus it’s less expensive than having to call an ambulance.”
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1/1/02: Gels, creams, lotions, pills, nips and tucks…

Dr. Peter Gott’s medical advice column appears daily in the local Santa Maria Times. Mostly it addresses the readers’ questions about goiter, gout, and gastrointestinal distress. But a few weeks back he talked about age (he is 66) and our youth-oriented culture. You might enjoy some of his thoughts, in his words.

“In more “primitive” societies, old age brings respect, perquisites and honor. The elders in most tribes are listened to and their advice is eagerly sought; they have more prestige and power than do the young. I think we’re missing something here.

“Or perhaps not—if you believe the surveys indicating that men reach the height of their attractiveness at about 60, women somewhat earlier. Let’s face it: for most of us, aging is associated with failing health, declining powers and lessening prowess. The way in which we handle these alterations is a function of elegance and style, two attributes in increasing short supply.

“Witness the inelegant and restless seekers of trim, buff, wrinkle-free bodies who support a multi-billion dollar industry of cosmetics, health clubs and plastic surgery, all of which are designed to make us look falsely younger.

“Fewer of us are allowing maturity to follow its natural course. We seem to prefer cinnamon-colored, sheen-less hair and the pretense of adolescent glow applied from make-up kits. This is magical thinking, pure and simple: If we worship the mementos of our youth and avoid appearing old, we can fool the grim reaper. We delude ourselves into believing we can trick nature and undue the unkind Spell of the Elderly. Our wishful efforts are reinforced by the American cult of adolescence that bombards us daily in the media with phony assurances of youthful superiority.

“To a great degree, the advances of modern medicine do, in fact, permit the elderly to lead longer, more independent lives. Successful therapies for diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer and a host of serious afflictions are causing a top-heavy demographic pyramid. Aged people are commonplace. The total population over 65 has mushroomed and soon will rise exponentially as the baby-boomers enter the mix. Despite our efforts, however, the human genetic clock has its limit, probably about 110 years. Short of a skin-deep remake, how do we oldies put up with the aging process and achieve hereditary potential? As we suspect, no blueprints are available to show us how to age gracefully.

“I submit that for most of us, adaptation is the key: To explore and exploit each decade as it inexorably overtakes us, to use our experiences wisely, to accept the consequences of aging without the desperate pretense of ersatz youth, to maintain dignity, to enjoy as full a life as possible and to preserve a sense of humor about the whole process. If we use these tools, the gels, creams, lotions, pills, nips and tucks, silicone, collagen injections and liposuction become superfluous.

“Finally, a humorous note on the definition of age. According to Gott, you know you are getting older when you suggest to your wife that you both take an afternoon nap. And you do.”
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1/1/02: Medications to stay away from.

At some point, we may all need a nostrum or two to get through the day (or night), or to live the active life we wish. So the question is not whether our medication is acceptable or desirable but are we ingesting the wrong or dangerous stuff?

M.D. Sanjay Gupta, in Time Magazine of Dec. 24, reports that nearly a million people 65 and over “swallow pills that an expert panel has determined that senior citizens should never take.” Eleven such medications he says to keep away from are flurazepam (Dalmane and Somnol), meprobamate (Equanil, Meprospan, Miltown), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), meperidine (Demerol), Pentazocine (Talwin), trimethobenzamide (Tigan, Benzacot, Stemetic), dicyclomine (Bentyl), hyoscyamine (Anaspaz, Cystospaz, Gastrosed), Propantheline (Pro-Banthine), barbiturates (pentobarbital), and belladonna alkaloids (atropine).

The same study, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, also found almost 20% of those 65 and older are given medications that are rarely appropriate for people their age. Sometimes folks mix up their medications, share with others, or use expired prescriptions, but doctors must also share some of the blame. They receive little geriatric training and get in the habit of simply rewriting familiar prescriptions without checking up on the newest drugs.

Another problem, according to Gupta, is that seniors aren’t just older adults. They have less muscle mass, a slower metabolism, and greater sensitivity to certain drugs. Also, “the recommended dosages for most medications are based on a 154-lb. man of normal metabolism—with no allowance for age.”

For now, he says, “seniors must fend for themselves. They should never change prescriptions without consulting their physicians, but … should also feel free to question their doctors if they find themselves taking medications from the list of drugs to avoid” (listed above).
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12/15: More sex, fewer colds—and other things we need to know…

Nobody wants a cold this year but 90% of us will catch at least one anyway. Worse yet, 16-20% more people will get sick from colds in the last months of 2001 than 2000.

Why? Since 911, the country’s cumulative stress level has risen, and “people under stress are more likely to get sick,” says Sheldon Cohen, psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University in USA Weekend, Dec. 2. Add that to the usual stressors we can’t do much about—marital conflicts, conflicts with friends, family deaths, being unemployed or underemployed—and the numbers rise.

To avoid colds?

* Avoid kids: they get 5-12 colds a year, and love to give them to those who love them.

* The more friends and contacts you make, the stronger your response—unless those friends have colds!

* Smell or eat chocolate, have sex once or twice a week (you thought I forgot the sex!), listen to music, and/or stroke a pet: all release immunity-enhancing chemicals in the body, according to Carl Charnetski, psychologist at Wilkes University and author of Feeling Good Is Good for You: How Pleasure Can Boost Your Immune System and Lengthen Your Life.

Who has the toughest time shaking a cold? Smokers (they don’t do as well once they have a cold because their tissues are already damaged), allergy sufferers (the symptoms linger longer and are more numerous because their mucous membranes tend to be inflamed) and sugar addicts (sugar depresses the while blood cell count for 2-5 hours after its ingestion).

Hold on for five more years, says Jack M. Gwaltney Jr., M.D. and professor of internal medicine at the U. of Virginia. Then a true cure for the common cold will be available. It will be anti-viral agents that halt cold viruses from growing in the body.

In the meantime, each winter go get the local, free (or inexpensive) flu shot. And have sex. Then if you get a cold nonetheless, oh well, you tried.
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12/15: Oops, we got the wrong kidney!

The last thing we want at any age is our physician blithely removing the wrong leg or the wrong side of our brain. Alas, “the number of wrong-site surgeries has gone up year after year after year,” according to Dennis O’Leary, president of the joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), in USA Today on December 6.

There were 108 such calamities reported in the last two years, 11 in November, although of the millions of operations done annually their overall occurrence is rare. More than half took place in surgical clinics.

The cure? Magic marker. Simply put an X on the spot to be operated on or removed. Yet doctors resist this suggestion, “insisting they know their left from their right.” Only 60% of the orthopedic surgeons actually mark the sites, although it is urged by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, according to Terrence Canale of the group.

Donald Palmisano is a surgeon and JCAHO commissioner. Says Robert Davis in USA Today, “Before Palsimano’s wife had knee surgery recently, he and his wife used a pen to mark which knee should be repaired. ‘This knee Bob,’ he wrote on the bad joint. ‘Wrong side Bob,’ was scribbled on the other leg. His wife emerged from surgery with a new message on her skin, ‘Thanks, Bob.’”

Palmisano says that all patients must be just that bold.
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12/1: Anybody interested in brain longevity?

Not just getting the brain to stay alive as long as the rest of the body, but to be ever-vibrant, even rejuvenating as we age! That’s the mission of Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa’s book Brain Longevity: The Breakthrough Medical Program that Improves Your Mind and Memory (1999, Warner Books).

In this book, the Arizona physician and founding member of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, divides his text into three major categories: stress management, nutrition, and physical and mental exercise.

His message particularly differs in his emphasis on learning and practicing stress-management techniques, since the best brain function requires a relaxed mental state. To stop the deleterious cortisol level build-up that comes from chronic uncorrected stress (which destroys memory, burns nutrients, and ages the body), Dr. Khalsa’s book prescribes a daily break for meditation, the creation of a support network (“Love heals. Love stops stress.”), and the development of short-, medium-, and long-term goals. Happiness should always top our list!

Nutritionally, the book predictably encourages a balanced, low-fat, nutritious diet, plus specific instructions on taking supplements, which include coenzyme Q, ginseng, and vitamins B complex, C, and E.

As for physical and mental exercise, Dr. Khalsa sees a direct correlation between activity and higher mental fitness in older people. Physical exercise also reduces stress while mental exercise fights off memory loss. He suggests crossword puzzles, memory games, keeping abreast of current events—and consciously forgetting trivial details that we needn’t remember in the first place!

This book received exceptionally good reviews, particularly for its details about nutrition. Ken Dychtwald, author of Age Wave, says, “Finally, a practical solution to the problem of brain aging…. This is one of the few books that can actually change your life.”
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12/1: Surviving the hospital room!

Despite the amazing medical improvements we’ve seen in our lifetime, there has been a dangerous foe lingering in hospitals that adds to the chance that even cured or well patients might nonetheless not survive. Called sespsis, the acute bloodstream bacterial infection strikes about 750,000 Americans annually, and about a third of those die.

Now Eli Lilly & Co. has developed Xigris, the first drug to directly attack the infection. Approved by the FDA on 11/22, the company said it will ship the medicine to hospital intensive-care units within days. Officials say it should save tens of thousands of lives a year.
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11/1: Three health quickies…

(1) The value of walking? For women 65+, every mile walked per week over a six- to eight-year period reduced the risk of mental decline by about 13%, according to Dr. Kristine Yale, UCSF, from a study of 6,000 participants, as reported in October’s Bottom Line Tomorrow.

(2) A recent University of Florida study showed that almost half of the women in the U.S. over 65 use herbal products as preventative for, or treatment of, health concerns, but they rarely inform their health professionals about what they take from fear of disapproval. The most commonly used herbs are ginkgo biloba, garlic tablets, cloves, and glucosamine with chondroitin, closely followed in popularity by aloe, herbal teas, echinacea, ginger, St. John's wort, vinegar with honey, primrose, and ginseng.

On average, women took 3.2 prescribed medicines and 3.8 over-the-counter medications (including vitamins). The only problem is that mixing herbs and medicines can make one sick, cancel out the effects of other medicines, or even be fatal. We can check out the drug-drug interaction and drug-food interactions, according to http://www.seniorresource.com, by contacting Gerry Graf , Ph.D., R.Ph., F.A.S.C.P., at http://www.gerrygraf.com. The information costs $1 per request, to cover mailing. Your doctor might also know, and your pharmacist should.

(3) Want to prevent or reduce hip fractures in your last years? Eat foods rich in vitamin K, found in dark, green leafy vegetables, says Nissa Simon in New Choices’ “Healthy News.” But bone density alone will not prevent fractures. The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society says that moderate physical activity (including walking and gardening) also reduce the risk of hip fracture from 20-60%.
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10/15: Good news about the fear of breast cancer!

Almost half of the women in America think their risk of developing breast cancer is 30-50%, while two-thirds think the risk is greater than 20%, according to the American Cancer Society. In fact, a woman’s lifetime risk is about 11%. (Which, of course, is about 11% too high.)

Women also mistakenly believe that the risk is greatest from 30-49. The risk actually increases with age.

The most important thing one can do to reduce its severity? Regular self-examinations, and a check by the doctor at periodic health exams.
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10/15: Did the doctor mention exercise?

I know that I repeatedly mention the value of exercise to promote health and prevent disease, but a new study by the AMC Cancer Research Center in Denver shows that it is under-recommended by doctors to adults, who offer that advice only slightly more than 25% of the time.

A doctor friend of mine says that while all doctors acknowledge its benefits, and there is growing evidence for its importance, it is probably because so few doctors themselves exercise!

Is the advice needed? Apparently. Some 68% of adults don’t exercise for the minimum amount of time recommended by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine?30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day at least five times a week.

The key benefits? Exercise reduces the risk of developing diabetes, colon cancer, hypertension, and obesity while it promotes psychological well-being and healthier bones. It also distracts you when you feel like wringing somebody else’s neck.
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8/15: Are you post-menopausal with babies on your mind?

According to Jim Avila on the NBC News August 7, the historically impossible no longer is. Still want a baby after you’ve used up your 2,000,000 or so eggs? It’s doable but very expensive and risky.

Last year, some 4,411 women 45-49 and 174 fifty or older had successful pregnancies, though almost all needed extensive medical help. They also had to locate donor eggs (usually fertilized by their husbands or male mates), pass a stringent heart test, and cough up (perhaps not the best verb) an average of $20,000.

And if you want more than one baby, about a third of today’s elderly mothers will be bountifully blessed with twins or triplets!

The average age of the first delivery in 2001 was 24.8 years. Good thing that some of our Cro-Magnon kin didn’t dally so long. By 25, most of them were dead.
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8/15: Older sex isn’t safer sex

While second life sex must seem both an oxymoron and an impossibility to our kids, I have it on high authority that it’s not only physically achievable and socially acceptable (if well hidden), it’s lots of fun. Alas, like most juicy secrets, it’s not risk-free.

According to ABC News on August 4, seniors (particularly men) are the fastest growing group of AIDs victims, rising 40% in the past decade. Why? More sexual interest and capacity with Viagra and hormone-replacement use, plus an abundance of available women to infect.

It becomes more complicated because doctors never think to ask or test older patients for AIDs or other sexually-transmittable diseases. While AIDs is more treatable now, there is no cure, and it costs $12,000 a year in medication alone simply to stay alive. (It’s also hard to explain to your family.)

You needn’t join the cloister or monastery to remain HIV-. Just do what you tell your kids and grandkids: practice safe sex. Be selective with your mates, use protection (at least condoms), and if there is any doubt, ask your physician—then ask him or her, kindly, to please stop laughing.

While I couldn’t find specific senior-based numbers, I suspect that second lifers are far more likely to get genital herpes, which infects (for life) one in five adolescents and adults in the U.S. The highest incidence is among women, blacks, and those 20 to 29. It has no outward symptoms, though the infected can have periodic outbreaks of blisters and ulcers that can transmit the disease to others. Again, be selective, ask, and use the same protection.

There is an excellent website (http://www.seniorsite.com/sex) with full details about “Sex and Seniors,” AIDs, genital herpes, and other STDs. It also discusses why even the most serious diseases or conditions rarely warrant stopping sexual activity, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, hysterectomy, prostatectomy, alcohol, and emotional problems.
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8/15: Health thoughts from a senior perspective

When I spoke to endodontists in Honolulu last year, I needed a summary of current financial thinking from the perspective of a person about to enter their Second Life. Since I had just researched and published How to Create Your Own Super Second Life: What Are You Going to Do With Your Extra 30 Years?, I created a 26-point brief that would serve as a checkpoint of information at that time and a checklist for both dentists and others to use as they ventured into this terra incognita.

In early September I will speak twice to the American Public Works Association International Congress in Philadelphia, so I have slightly updated the information to include in their workbook. Let me share that information with you as well, at http://www.super-second-life.com/financialthoughts.htm.

Included in the checklist are thoughts about Social Security, pensions, self-employment income, savings, part-time work, inheritance, life insurance income, disability, Medicare, Medicaid, mortgages, a will, credit cards, selling our toys, marriage, reverse mortgaging, health and health costs, retirement, nursing home dread, a car, divorce, and parents. (What’s left?)

If this list makes sense to you, you may wish to show it to your kids. A couple of friends in their 30s read the sheet and told me they were amazed that there was so much to think about “when somebody, God forbid, got old,” but they were also glad to see so many options to meet needs at that time. (I suspect they thought the list was just one item long: “Get a tin cup.”)
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8/15: Men, we now have a reason to avoid health checkups!

Tedd Mitchells, M.D., got us off the hook in the June 8-10 USA Weekend by affirming that testosterone not only makes us more competitive, it’s part of that macho attitude that creates an aversion to seeking medical attention. It creates an exaggerated sense of self-reliance, which in turn makes us neglect our bodies, become emotionally isolated, and engage in risky behaviors. Oh yeh?

It’s part of the same hairy-chested psyche that proclaims “big boys don’t cry,” “take it like a man,” and “Christopher Columbus never stopped to ask for directions, so why should I?”

Two of the less desirable results (he says) are that the leading causes of death for men under 40 are road accidents and homicide. And that women, in 1920, lived but one year longer than men, but now they live six. (What man wants to live six more years if he has to wear a skirt?)

Then Mitchell turned tail. He wimped out. He now wants us to plan for wellness that’ll last a lifetime! He suggests helping others, speaking honestly, sharing feelings, and learning to cooperate rather than compete. Fat chance!

Even worse, he wants us to team up with a doctor and get regular checkups and preventative screens, suggesting that earlier disease detection can raise survival rates and lead to treatments that are less invasive, less expensive (more beer!), and less troublesome (what could be less troublesome than not knowing?) What kind of checkups and screens? Cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, prostate, colon, and cardiovascular system.

And naturally he wants us to eat green things and fruit (that’s what I feed my horse!), take one drink a day (or none!), quit chewing or smoking, cut out the weed, and huff and puff in little shorts three times a week. He even says that understanding that we tend to react more aggressively when provoked (whether in a bar or a car) is the first step to lowering our stress!

Men unite! Our great grandfathers spat, cussed, settled things on the spot, and lived to 48. No Cooper Clinic internist is going to make us get healthy and live forever, even if we can do it in pants!
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7/15: Part 3 (of 6)—Planning our own Super Second Life: HEALTH

It’s one thing to have enough money to afford the basics and some choices in our Super Second Life, as we discussed in the last (7/1) newsletter, but without our health, that advantage will be short-lived and, I fear, little enjoyed.

Physical and mental health are also requisites for the enjoyment of a full, fun, meaningful life. The idea is to be vigorous, active, alert, and clear-thinking, delaying and placating debility or senility either until our last, painless months or until the very last moment.

It all begins with a complete medical exam, plus the provision (to the doctor) of other information that will assist in the creation of a proactive life maintenance program. Soon enough I will send you to the website to read Chapter 6, “What Will You Do About Your Physical and Mental Health?” from How to Create Your Own Super Second Life: What Are You Going to Do With Your Extra 30 Years? A sample medical chart is included.

In that chapter we will set aside two myths: (1) old = sick, and (2) we are all headed for the nursing home! Then we’ll look at the claim that it doesn’t matter what we do, the doctors will find a pill to keep us all humming until 200. Fat chance!

We’ll talk about taking control of our bodies and minds now, what we must do to maintain optimum health for the next 30 years (without quack remedies or manic exertion), the role that diet and exercise play in body maintenance, and the four things that medicine currently suggests to maintain and increase our brain power almost as long as we live.

We will also review James Barrett’s six major regressive tasks we will all eventually encounter, plus the seven compensatory tasks that will help us meet those changes and adjust better to old age. Alas, our biggest danger at any point isn’t loss of mental function but of just giving up, the “why try?” mentality that scientists call “disengagement.” That too often happens shortly after retirement.

And we’ll see that stress is a no-nonsense foe that we must face.

It’s no surprise that actively planning a vital, rewarding “second life” is plunk at or near the core of many of the “cures.” The last two of four suggestions from Joanne Schrof about how we can stay mentally sharp as we age make the point:

* In middle age, develop expertise, save money (so you can afford mind-nourishing experiences), achieve your major goals (so you don’t enter retirement unfulfilled), and avoid burnout.

* After 65, seek new horizons, resist the temptation to settle into a comfy routine, engage the world (do things you believe make a difference in life), take a daily walk, and keep control (helplessness leads to mental apathy and deterioration).

The purpose of Part Three, then, is to help us get a handle on our health now and take simple, straightforward steps to retain our vigor and abilities as long as possible, through both a baseline exam and a set of guidelines for future healthy living.

I’ll see you at http://www.super-second-life.com/chap6health.htm for the full explanation (also accessible from the box above).
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7/15: Second life buddies: diabetes and depression

Both diabetes and depression can turn a second life into a bummer. Worse yet, one can lead to the other, as a new study based on 25 years of data shows, according to the June issue of Diabetes Care.

Diabetics are twice as likely to suffer from depression as non-diabetics, with the incidence higher in women. That makes sense. The study’s lead author, Dr. Patrick J. Lustman of Washington University, says that “people get depressed in relation to the hardship and complications or other stressors related to the disease.”

But does it work in reverse? Apparently. The inactivity and overeating related to depression contribute to diabetes.

Double bummer. Guess we’ve got to keep hopping and sit a bit farther from the plate. Triple bummer.
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7/15: Memory help!

In the 6/15 newsletter I mentioned a false memory trail (I think) about an article I avidly pursued, only to discover that it discussed computer memory!

Now I’ve found two actual studies about brain memory that are worth sharing.

In a 6/24 Parade Magazine article by Michael Ryan, one comment, by Dr. Gayatri Devi, a New York memory specialist, was particularly encouraging about what experts will be able to do for patients in the future: “This sounds strange, but there has never been a better time to have a memory problem. It’s like having pneumonia after the discovery of penicillin.”

But mostly the article assures us that memory lapses are common and to be expected. They are the results of the usual wear and tear, and they get worse with age. Not to worry: neighboring cells, through “compensatory regeneration,” send out new growth to pick up the slack.

But memory loss can be disorienting and sometimes leads to depression. (Can it work in reverse? If I was depressed, I’d like to forget that too!)

One of the few categories of missing memory is what Pomona College’s Dr. Deborah Burke calls “tip of the tongue experiences,” or TOTs. You need a word and it simply won’t come. These, she says, are transitory and no cause for concern. The word will arrive within 30 minutes! She solves this before attending a party of people she infrequently sees by saying their names out loud before she goes.

Another category concerns misplaced items, like keys. Two solutions there: (1) focus on putting the keys down (thus creating an adequate memory trace) and (2) always put them down in the same place.

A somewhat more serious memory issue, though treatable, comes from the loss of estrogen (in menopause) or testosterone, both affecting the hippocampus, which is involved with memory function. The solution is hormone adjustment, sometimes with memory exercises.

Unrelated, more severe memory problems (like figuring out what the keys are for) can be tip-offs to Alzheimer’s or the effects of a stroke. Yet any persistent memory-related concern should be looked at by a specialist. Your own doctor may know of the 10-minute MMSE test that can isolate problems and guide further treatment. Most U.S. university medical centers have memory clinics.

Three ways that Michael Ryan suggests that you strengthen your memory:

(1) Play mind games. To keep the mind agile and the memory strong, do puzzles and word games. Taking courses in unfamiliar subjects can help too.

(2) Repeat... For those words, names, or concepts you simply can’t remember, say them out loud to yourself again and again.

(3) Write it down. Give your memory a break: write it out on Post-its, lists, whatever.
 
 



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The second article, by Roberta Yared in the May-June AARP Bulletin, finds memory improving in those 70+. More than 10,000 people tested in 1998 did better than a like group in 1993, according to the Journals of Gerontology.

More surprising, the greatest improvements were found among people in their 80s and those who had never graduated from high school.

I knew it! I should never have gone to my high school graduation. It’s been playing havoc with my memory ever since!
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7/1: Check the BOOK REPORT section for the newsletter review of Barbara Sher's very funny and very good It's Only Too Late If You Don't Start Now: How to Create Your Super Second Life After 40!

To give you an additional taste of Barbara's unique slant, and grace in sharing it, here are a few of her key thoughts from Chapter 1, "Don't Panic, It's Only a Midlife Crisis."

"You've pretty much gotten your life shaped up... But something's wrong... You're in a transition, not a decline... This state isn't caused by failure, and it's not fixed by success... Your future just changed... Life until now was a warm-up... The truth is, there's somebody inside you who hasn't happened yet, who's been waiting to come on the scene and create a new life..."

"We don't know how to be forty or fifty anymore. Times have changed, and there's no one to show us the way... We want to throw ourselves headlong back into the arena of youth... Most of us are too stubborn to walk away from the game of youth until we're thrown out...(M)ost of the dumb things you do before you turn forty are unavoidable. But most of the things you do after you turn forty are very avoidable... (W)e're suffering from an image of aging that comes from a different time... Transformations like these are nerve-racking, no doubt about it, but they aren't endings... Nothing bad has happened. There's simply a life-changing shift in your outlook coming up..."

Barbara's view is so refreshing and different, and her exercises so full of common sense and hope, that I think you will be a different person after reading this book.
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7/1: Slap some kale on my luteinburger!

A triple test shows that a natural nutrient, lutein, offers powerful protection against heart disease, specifically hardening of the arteries, according to the June 19 edition of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

“The report helps explain why diets rich in fruits and veggies protect people from heart diseases,” says Alice Lichtenstein, a nutritional biochemist at Tufts in Boston. (Five or six daily servings of fruits and vegetables is the American Heart Association’s recommendation.)

Lutein is found in kale, spinach, collard greens, and other leafy green vegetables, as well as broccoli, Brussels spouts, cantaloupe, oranges, and egg yolks. But don’t substitute lutein pills, says Lichtenstein.

For those who don’t like vegetables, the report suggests chopping up kale or spinach and adding it to spaghetti sauce or meatloaf. You won’t taste the vegetables!

One of the U.S.C. tests (conducted by Dr. James Dwyer and colleagues) had some of 480 men and women ages 40-60 taking lutein supplements for 18 months. Those with the highest levels of lutein in their blood had no progression of arterial plaque; those with the lowest did have clogs that continued to worsen.

A second test placed sections of human arteries in lab dishes and doused them with lutein. Those so bathed attracted fewer white cells, which seemed to short-circuit the clogging process.

The third fed lutein supplements to mice that were genetically engineered to develop clogged arteries at a young age. Those fed lutein had arterial clogs 43% smaller than other mice who didn’t get the nutrient.

Very impressive. Since 500,000 Americans die from heart attacks each year, I plan to find these greens, eat them, bathe in them, and treat my mice to them. I’ve got too much planned these coming decades to get clogged.

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6/15: See the sections in the directory above about polio and cancer.
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6/1: Alzheimer’s study and some possible preventatives…

A great article in Time Magazine (5/14/01) picks up on the now famous “Nun Study” by Dr. David Snowdon, where a Minnesota order of 678 nuns has allowed science to intensively investigate their writing, diet, lifestyle, even their brains when they die.

Some tentative yet useful epidemiological results that may slow down the dreaded disease’s mental deterioration for all of us suggest that we (1) get educated and keep ourselves mentally busy, to build up an “extra reserve of mental capacity” to stay functioning despite the loss of brain tissue, (2) avoid head trauma and strokes: wear a helmet when cycling, buckle our seat belt, drive a car with air bags, and keep our cardiovascular system in top shape by exercising, avoiding tobacco, and eating a healthy, balanced diet, (3) include folic acid in that diet, and (4) maintain a positive attitude.

New results from this study will appear in the 6/01 Psychology and Aging. (I’ll check it for a later newsletter.)